Scrapbook Photo 09/12/20 - Wetlands Work: Kirchner Farm Big Spring Run Restoration:
1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Talks About The Vision And Actions Needed To Restore Our Environment At The PA Environmental Council’s Three Rivers Awards

In May of 1996, Gov. Tom Ridge gave the keynote address at the PA Environmental Council’s Three Rivers Environmental Awards-- now the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards.

His remarks talked about the vision needed to respect and replenish our environment and the actions that need to be taken by all of us to make that happen--

It has been said that vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision merely passes time. Vision with action can change the world.

You gather here today to share a vision for Pennsylvania in the 21st century; to recognize those whose efforts unite their vision with action.

Vision to respect and replenish our environment. Actions that preserve and protect our air, water and land.

As members of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and citizens of western Pennsylvania — each of you — in your own way — are doing your part to help change our world.

The “rules of the game” have changed over the past 50 years. In 1996, Pennsylvania is no longer preparing for the 21st century — we are living it.

All we need to do is compare the Mon Valley’s empty steel mills with downtown Pittsburgh’s thriving computer and high tech industries to see that Pennsylvania’s economy has experienced dramatic change.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for traditional industry in the new economy. But established industries must co-exist with new ones. And they all must coexist with the land, water and air humanity depends upon.

Public policy must bridge them all.

The private sector has already begun this process. Government however, still finds itself woefully behind.

The industrial revolution spurred Pennsylvania’s economy. But we now know that its limited view of progress left large portions of our landscape scarred, lifeless and vulnerable to environmental abuse.

Such a narrow, naive view left thousands of acres of forests clear cut without replanting. Sediment-choked streams and wildlife disappeared.

Early surface coal mining left 230,000 acres of abandoned and unreclaimed waste land.

And old underground mining practices threatened many communities with subsidence and at one point caused the entire Susquehanna River to disappear through a mine shaft.

But tonight we do not shame our past — but look with hope toward the future. It is appropriate that we gather in Pittsburgh to give these awards.

 For it is here where the citizens of this community — business leaders, newspaper editors, government officials and, most importantly, ordinary people — have taken back their environment.

Here, where the air was once black, the rivers fouled and the land scarred in 20th century industrial single-mindedness — it has all changed.

Today, Pittsburgh’s people have transformed their environment.

It has not been without pain. We still feel the sting of the domestic steel industry’s troubled times. Pennsylvania’s environmental recovery and economic renaissance has only just begun.

There is perhaps no more striking — or symbolic example of Pennsylvania’s new found success than a treasure found at Pittsburgh’s Gulf Tower on the 37th floor.

It’s not a new business — or a high tech discovery — but the return of a pair of peregrine falcons this spring.

I don’t need to tell this group that the Peregrine falcons are an endangered species. Their numbers dwindled in the days of DDT and other pesticides after World War II.

But 1996 marks the sixth straight year this pair has nested in the Gulf Tower’s heights.

The Pittsburgh skyline mimics the cliff ledges and mountainous terrain they once called home. And since 1991, the pair have produced 15 offspring.

In fact, the pound parents have gotten all of Pittsburgh involved. Thanks to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which monitors the nest through a television in the Gulf Tower lobby.

And for Internet surfers, we can even check up on their progress on the World Wide Web.

In the central part of our state nests another beacon of hope.

Just two weeks ago, on an island in the Susquehanna River a few miles north of Harrisburg, a bald eaglet born at the Philadelphia Zoo was gently added to the wild nest of two other eaglets.

Today, the nest is watched carefully to make sure that the wild bald eagles accept it as their own.

It was only 16 years ago that DDT and pesticide poisoning all but wiped out this majestic bird in our state.

In the early 80’s, only two bald eagles nests were known. Now, we can count 22 — a record in Pennsylvania.

The renewal of these majestic birds in Pennsylvania parallels our own efforts to take the next step in environmental protection.

When I was inaugurated in January 1995, I called for a partnership — the most advanced partnership in the nation to promote and enhance our natural resources. I called for Pennsylvania to showcase well-reasoned — inspired — environmental leadership.

We have made great strides in the last year. The confrontational and legalistic mystery of the Department of Environmental Resources has come to an end. Rising from its ashes — a new approach to environmental protection.

It’s an approach based on science, public input, pollution prevention and compliance assistance. Let me take just a moment to share some of the strides we have made with you.

First has been our effort to open doors. When I came to Harrisburg, this was a novel concept — public participation.

So I guess it shouldn’t have been that surprising that the most frequent criticisms I heard from Pennsylvanians during my campaign was how the public only got into the regulatory process at its tail end — after the departments like DER had all but made its own regulatory decision.

That is no longer the case.

The new Department of Environmental Protection is committed to seeking meaningful input up front — input from people with a real stake in the issue.

Stakeholder groups and the use of regulatory negotiation has opened government to new ideas and public discussion.

The idea is to listen to what people have to say about clean air, special protection waters and municipal waste.

And the idea is to bring them in — even on the thorniest of issues — at a point in the process when their ideas can make a difference. It’s just common sense!

Common sense also dictates public access and the use of technology — particularly emerging technologies like the World Wide Web.

DEP’s HomePage on the Internet and free weekly newsletter are part of the agency’s commitment to help keep people informed.

A new Environmental Education and Information Center on the first floor of the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg has also opened its doors.

This cooperative effort between DEP and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sends a clear message — information is a key element as we move away from an attitude of “government knows best” and move toward sharing the responsibility for a clean environment with all citizens.

It is with that in mind that the Land Recycling Program I signed into law has taken off.

It’s quickly become one of the most comprehensive — most successful — industrial site reuse programs in the nation.

 In western Pennsylvania, you know the value — and the problems — of unused and abandoned industrial sites.

Recycling them makes sense. Particularly when you can work with the private sector by making the incentives right. Then, everyone wins.

Old, existing sites get cleaned. Pristine lands are preserved. Jobs are created. And thanks to local initiatives — it’s all done at practically no taxpayer expense.

In less than a year, 24 sites have been cleaned up. Fifty-eight others are underway. All we had to do was point in the right direction — and then get government out of the way.

We proved that it works. And so, when I meet with my fellow Great Lakes governors in July, I plan to encourage their states to adopt Pennsylvania’s approach to industrial site reuse.

Programs like that work because Pennsylvanians want clean air, clean land and clean water.

They want to comply with environmental laws. They just need a little help figuring out what the laws are and what the regulations mean.

So, last year we underwent an unprecedented year-long review of over 13,000 pages of environmental regulations [called the Regulatory Basics Initiative]. And new policies and guidelines were developed in an open process that included over 1,200 public recommendations.

It’s really a simple goal — to make sure that our regulations are understandable — flexible — and accomplish the intended result in a cost-effective manner.

That’s why I signed an executive order to make environmental regulations more responsive by establishing the Money-Back Guarantee Permit Review Program.

It’s another simple concept — permit decisions within specific deadlines. If they’re not done on time, the application fee is returned.

The program does not waive government’s responsibility for making sound environmental decisions. But it does make government responsible for its service to you — government’s customer.

I am pleased to report that so far — DEP has produced a spotless record. Money Back guarantee — a novel concept for government — but to you and I, it just makes sense.

It also makes sense that pollution prevention is better than trying to clean it up after it happens. That’s why we encourage individuals, local governments and businesses to achieve a zero discharge goal in their environmental programs.

That goal of zero discharge is, of course, very ambitious, but many forward-looking companies have already adopted it and some have even achieved it.

An important way we’re communicating these success stories and finding new ones is through DEP’s new Office of Pollution Prevention and Compliance Assistance.

We believe these activities must be highlighted in everything DEP does.

Encouraging environmental compliance audits, self-policing environmental management systems like the international ISO 14000 performance standards and innovations like facility-wide permitting are all important initiatives.

So are efforts to integrate pollution prevention and compliance assistance into every DEP’s employee’s job.

The old environmental protection paradigm had but one tool in the toolbox — the hammer. That “command and control” approach was extremely popular from 1970 to 1990. But now it is time for the next step.

While we have not and will not throw away the hammer, we believe we can gain greater environmental public/private partnership.

It is only by working together that we will insure that the land, the water and the air in which we truly borrow from our children is preserved for them.

And it is for our children — and our children’s children — that we must turn our attention to an issue that is increasingly grabbing our attention and growing in importance — clean air.

People in and around Pittsburgh know what air pollution can do.

In 1948, 20 people died and 7,000 people were hospitalized in Donora during a severe inversion that trapped poisonous air over that Monongahela River town.

These were not the “statistical deaths” computers estimate. They were mother, father, aunt, uncles and even children.

Fortunately, we no longer have that kind of air pollution problem. Today’s pollution problem is more difficult because we can only see it as a brown haze that hangs on the horizon.

Even though the southwestern Pennsylvania went five summers without an ozone violation above EPA’s set standard, the hot, humid summer last year surprised us with five high ozone episodes.

The result was 17 instances of non-attainment. Clearly, like other parts of the country, we still have a problem.

It’s not that we haven’t taken significant steps to reduce ozone levels throughout the Commonwealth. We have.

-- Industry has made significant reductions in the two key culprits of ozone pollution — nitrogen oxide emissions and volatile organic compounds.

-- We have adopted tougher standards for new sources of pollution and require new permits for existing sources.

--  A new consumer-friendly, decentralized auto emissions inspection program has been proposed. It’s a proposal now being designed with the help of stakeholders, and which includes a demonstration program this fall.

--  Last week, we helped kick off the second year of the Ozone Action Partnership — a partnership between business, government and citizen groups to encourage voluntary compliance activities in the Pittsburgh area.

--  And along those lines, we have reached an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to give this Pittsburgh region and its stakeholders group time. Time to develop an effective ozone reduction plan. EPA has rescinded its August 15th deadline in favor of the schedule we proposed to give the stakeholders a real chance. 

Yes, we have done a lot. With the stakeholders group’s help, we will do more. But we cannot solve our ozone problem alone.

Let me explain.

During the high ozone levels experienced by the Pittsburgh region last summer, monitors along the Ohio border measured pollution coming into Pennsylvania.

Let’s face it — pollution doesn’t know political boundaries. And the problem we run into is when pollution produced in other states comes over our border — it doesn’t take much to push the standard limits over the top.

Research completed since 1990 that uses real data — not just computer projections — shows how nitrogen oxide emissions from factories and power plants west and south of Pennsylvania are contributing to ozone formation in the Commonwealth.

Nitrogen oxides can travel long distances, creating ground-level ozone problems for Pennsylvania when the chemical combines with locally-produced volatile organic compounds.

Science has shown ozone to be a bigger problem geographically than we thought. States upwind of Pennsylvania and other northeast states are only required by the federal Clean Air Act Amendments to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the year.

In contrast, Pennsylvania and other northeast states have committed to a nitrogen oxide reduction of 55 percent by 1999.

Northeast states like Pennsylvania cannot solve the ozone problem on our own. In fact, we will be penalized economically if we are forced to do so.

Pennsylvania and 36 other states in the eastern United States have been working through the Ozone Transport Assessment Group to develop a more effective strategy for ozone control.

I am hopeful that we will work together aggressively to find a clean air solution.

Short of an OTAG remedy, however, our only solution will be to turn to a nationwide, nitrogen oxide control program.

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.

But I am sure you have seen the same writing on the wall that I have. The EPA has put on the table the option to tighten ozone standards.

While this action will be decided on its scientific merits — if this happens — it clearly means any new ozone standard cannot — will not — be met by the action of one state alone.

Without a comprehensive strategy, any tightening of the ozone standard will be unacceptable.

Pennsylvania has and will do its part to control ozone. But we cannot be expected to solve this problem on our own. The science doesn’t support it, and neither will the public that will have to bear its cost.

The falcon flies and the eagle soars again in Pennsylvania. These are the tangible proofs of the success of environmental protection.

We welcome you to join us as we take the next step — critical when you think it appropriate as well as supportive when you agree, but always - always — as respected partners whose opinions count.

Related Articles In This Series:

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

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

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 - 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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