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1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Talks About His Very Personal Connection To Lake Erie And The Need To Work Together To Restore The Great Lakes

In October of 1996, Gov. Tom Ridge, as Chair of the Great Lakes Council Of Governors, welcomed the interstate Great Lakes Commission to Erie, his home town, for its meeting. 

Gov. Ridge delivered these remarks on his very personal connection to Lake Erie and the Great Lakes and the need to be good stewards and restore our water and natural resources--

 Good evening, and welcome to Erie.

I take a lot of pride in this part of Pennsylvania.

I grew up here.

And so, just as you have taken a waterfront tour of Erie this afternoon, I thought I might share with you a few of my experiences on the beaches of Lake Erie.

You started your tour with Presque Isle State Park — one of Erie’s greatest natural resources.

This beautiful sliver of land draws more visitors each year than any other state park in Pennsylvania. But it also draws fond memories for me.

As a young boy, many of my summers were spent on Presque Isle’s beaches.

Later, as a young man, I worked in the maintenance department at the state park.

As a father, I’ve brought my own children to Presque Isle’s sandy beaches to enjoy its water, its trails and something it’s most famous for — those incredible sunsets.

Presque Isle taught me the value of our natural resources, and I have spent a lifetime working to preserve them.

As your tour continued along our waterfront, you passed the U.S. Brig Niagara. The battleship is now home for the winter after recalling the Battle of Lake Erie for 50,000 visitors in ports of call all along the East Coast this past summer.

And finally, you saw the new offices and condominiums, the museum and the library along the Bayfront Highway.

My wife, Michele, was director of the Erie County Library. That project was very much a part of her life for many years. It’s a project that honors Erie’s heritage and Erie’s future. It’s a project in which all of Erie takes pride in.

You see, this afternoon on your tour, you were able to take a glimpse at three strengths we believe are essential for the Great Lakes’ prosperity.

First, our natural resources, not just the fresh water but the unique recreational assets of our lake and shore.

Second, our historical heritage, which make us proud and can boost our tourist promotion to new levels. And third, our economic strength — economic strength which provides our community with a solid foundation of family-sustaining jobs.

Our challenge is to embrace these assets and traditions — and at the same time recognize that things can’t stay exactly the way they are today.

Progress won’t allow it. Just think about all that this region has experienced in the last 15 to 20 years. The world kept changing and we had to choose. And we chose progress. Enlightened progress.

Now, that’s not a surprising choice to any of us. That’s what being an American is all about. We want to get better. We want our children to have more than we did. We want the generations that come after us to know that we looked out not only for ourselves — but for them.

That’s why today, more than ever, the Great Lakes Region must continue moving ahead if we are to stay ahead in the new century that lies before us.

As the new chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, I am both humbled and emboldened by this opportunity.

This is not just a job. This is personal.

I remember when they said that Lake Erie was dead. I lived here. In fact, Erie was my home before the Rustbelt rusted.

The Industrial Revolution that spurred Pennsylvania and this country’s economy left scars on our land.

That era’s short-sighted, limited view of “progress” left abandoned and unreclaimed mine lands, sediments choked our streams and our Great Lakes were practically stagnant from toxic pollutants.

But because we never gave up, because we pulled together, the lakes are healthy again.

No, they’re not perfect. But they’re healthy again.

Our industry is healthy again, too. Again, it’s not perfect. But it’s healthy.

In fact, the Great Lakes region is the third largest industrial economy in the world — trailing only the entire United States and Japan.

As we enter the 21st Century, we look to build upon our collective success and each state’s individual accomplishments.

Working together as a region, the Great Lakes states will be economically competitive in the global market.

We’ll be a region where economic change is also a catalyst for environmental rebirth — a region where individuals are empowered to live their lives in communities filled with opportunity — a region that went from rustbelt to remarkable renaissance.

We are well on our way. Just think of how we have moved from a lagging, deindustrialized region to a high-tech, higher wage, manufacturing and industrial economy.

Just a few years ago, right here, in Pennsylvania, industrial mills churned day and night.

Very few still stir.

In their place, new economies have given rise.

The same story can be told by the other Great Lake states.

New York, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota can all tell you of the old legacies — old shells of that legacy — that remain behind.

Thousands of vacant and under-used industrial sites can be found throughout our region — sites that, if treated properly, will become key regional resources.

To completely shed that Great Lake’s rustbelt image, I believe that it’s time to turn our collective attention to industrial site reuse.

This is an issue that will allow our region to take the final step needed to reclaim our industrial heritage and to move, socially and economically, ahead.

Already, each of our eight states in the Great Lakes region stands at the forefront of this issue.

We each have Land Recycling Programs — programs that complement the region’s economic revitalization and environmental stewardship and offer new approaches to relieve distress in urban areas.

But these programs could yield even greater benefits for our region. This is where we have a great opportunity to work together, learn from each other, and produce the results we, as states, want — site cleanups with returns in our most important commodity — jobs.

Jobs are what it’s about — jobs.

Just think of all the factors that go into an employer’s business location decision — transportation facilities, tax policies, work force skills and global economic conditions.

Environmental concerns are in that mix as well. But while we have worked to ease the tax climate — reduce the burdens of regulations — got our workers the right kind of training and skills — too often, in the environmental arena, the barriers have been too significant to overcome.

Like many of you, Pennsylvania has worked hard to make that change.

Our Land Recycling Program is one example of that. I signed it into law in May of 1995. And since then, 130 sites have participated in the program, and we have completed cleanups at 35 of those sites — including one here in Erie.

The cleanups accomplished so far under Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling Program include:

-- Large and small projects that resolve long-standing contamination problems

-- Putting abandoned industrial sites back into productive use

-- Allowing existing businesses to clean up their own sites and continue operations

-- And giving hope to “land-locked” cities that now, for the first time in years, have potential industrial sites to show businesses seeking to expand.

I would like to suggest a regional industrial site reuse strategy that I believe is an ideal match for our region’s high performance economic and environmental agenda.

It is a plan that builds upon the success we have had in Pennsylvania and the success that other Great Lakes states have had to take full advantage of the environmental and economic potential that industrial site reuse has in this region.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is already working with our seven sister states to share our expertise in cleaning up industrial sites and promoting the use of new green technology.

I also believe we can work together to speed up the process of cleanups under the federal Superfund.

When we work together, the Great Lakes states will be able to capture the “best of the best.” We can highlight the most effective techniques — each state can make improvements on its own — and both the land and the economy will benefit.

I have called for a regional clearinghouse of information on remediation and other land recycling techniques — a clearinghouse that includes an Internet website to provide quick access to information.

We can also use our partnership to protect and promote these lakes.

It’s an amazing fact that 95 percent of all the fresh water in the United States are held in the Great Lakes. We should respect that. We should be proud of it.

And we should remember, as an old Indian proverb has said of both land and water, “we don’t inherit it from our grandparents. We borrow it from our children.”

That’s not a proverb that knows political borders or boundaries. And so, when we discuss our regional effort, our discussion is not complete without the inclusion of our neighbors to the north.

As you know, the Commission is considering including our Canadian neighbors as the Commission’s first provincial members.

It was my great pleasure in September to meet these leaders during my three-day trade mission to Canada, the first such mission of my administration.

We traveled to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, the key centers of biotech and environmental business activity and research and development in Canada.

Joining us were representatives from five Pennsylvania environmental technology companies, including Geoform from here in Erie County; four biotechnology companies and three university-related research centers.

We were so warmly welcomed and made so many contacts that I am sure all in our mission came home with a sense of real accomplishment.

The long-standing partnership that Pennsylvania has enjoyed with Canada has been and continues to be an important one.

Our recent visit provided us with another opportunity to strengthen that partnership for our mutual benefit in the areas of trade, investment and tourism.

It is that experience that prompted my invitation to have Quebec and Ontario represented here today and our strong support for their participation in the Commission.

At the beginning of my administration, I issued a challenge to Pennsylvania. That challenge — to become a national leader in finding new ways to protect our environment while promoting economic progress — to provide for the needs of the present without compromising the ability for future generations to meet needs of their own — to think in terms of sustainability, with both the economy and our environment.

That’s what Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling Program is all about. But land recycling is only one facet of sustainable thinking. And sustainable thinking is only one facet to Pennsylvania’s aggressive new environmental policy.

We’ve encouraged the development of “green” technologies to solve our own environmental problems and foster economic growth throughout our Commonwealth.

We’ve developed a statewide geographic information system to help permit applicants learn about sensitive environmental areas.

We’ve added funding for county conservation districts.

We’ve created wetlands reforms that are based on science and consistent definitions and which provide effective replacement options.

We’ve implemented a farmland preservation program that has saved over 75,000 acres of farmland from development.

We’ve promoted nonpoint source pollution control through education, grants and partnerships.

Yes, Pennsylvania has eagerly created a new and innovative environmental partnership within our borders. But we have eagerly pursued new and innovative environmental partnerships beyond our borders as well.

In addition to our work with the Great Lake States, Pennsylvania has joined with the New Jersey and Delaware and the EPA in signing an agreement to implement the Delaware Estuary Program.

And just last week, I joined with the governors of Maryland and Virginia and EPA to renew our commitment to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Pennsylvania is just as interested in being a good upstream neighbor as we are in controlling downstream pollution.

That philosophy is further spurred by the fact that we now know that a substantial portion of the nutrient pollution through nitrates in large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake and much of the Great Lakes, has been attributed to nitrogen oxide emissions, which also help cause ozone.

Pennsylvania and other eastern states, as well as our Canadian neighbors, are all downstream of air emissions from Midwest utilities. As I have said before, Northeast states cannot solve the ozone [air pollution] problem on our own.

As in many things, cooperation is the key. States must work together. Citizens must work together. Businesses must work together. For our collective challenges can only be solved by collective action.

So once again, Pennsylvania has formed a partnership with 36 other states in the Eastern United States to develop a more effective strategy for ozone control - a national strategy for a national problem.

There is no doubt that action is needed to meet the current ozone standard — action that treats all states in a fair and equitable way.

Fair and equitable treatment of the environment is of course our goal too.

Be it forest or field, river or stream, Lake Erie or the Susquehanna, Pennsylvania owes it to the children from which we borrow this land to be responsible stewards and good tenants.

We all want that.

We all want to honor the tradition of environmental stewardship.

In Pennsylvania, that’s a tradition which dates back 300 years to our founding father William Penn.

Our Constitution itself appropriately requires that Pennsylvania’s state government, as trustees of our natural resources, “shall conserve and maintain them for the people.”

Just as Pennsylvanians have the right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of our natural environment, so too, do our neighbors.

With the work of the Great Lakes Commission, and your commitment, we will fulfill that environmental obligation.

Together we will complete the rustbelt restoration and renaissance.

[The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is now located at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.)

Related Articles In This Series:

Feature: 20 Years Of Growing Greener: A Celebration Of Leadership, Partnership, Accomplishment

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge: Expanding Partnerships To Clean Up The Susquehanna River And The Chesapeake Bay Beyond

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Joins With Governors Of Delaware, New Jersey, Federal Officials To Establish The Delaware Estuary Program

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Thanks First Environmental Excellence Award Winning Businesses For Eliminating 1.4 Million Tons Of Waste, Pollution

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Talks About Rebuilding Pennsylvania's Industrial Heritage Through Land Recycling

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Talks About The Vision And Actions Needed To Restore Our Environment At The PA Environmental Council’s Three Rivers Awards

1996 - Department Of Environmental Protection Mission Statement & Statement Of Values

1995-2002 - DEP Secretary James M. Seif: The Assignment Was Clear - Take The Kick Me! Sign Off DER

1995-2002 - DEP Secretary David E. Hess: Many New Hands Now Help Protect Penn’s Woods

1995-2002 - Environmental Accomplishments Of The Ridge & Schweiker Administrations

1995-2002: Awards And Recognition For Environmental Programs During The Ridge & Schweiker Administrations

[Posted: December 10, 2019]


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