Earth Day 2000
Friday, April 21, 2000

Thank you, Mark [Gustafson], for helping to lead us toward a generation of trucks that will be cleaner, more fuel-efficient, and more competitive as well.

I have worked on environmental causes for more that two decades now. But in all my years of work on this issue, I have never seen a more hopeful sight that the crowd that is gathered here today.

Standing with us are captains of industry; labor leaders and working men and women; Teamsters and auto workers; lifelong environmentalists.

Ten years ago, if you’d told me you were assembling this crowd, I’d have thought it was an episode of Crossfire.

We’ve come a long way. Today, we’re not shouting at one another – we’re standing shoulder to shoulder, working together, meeting our responsibility, doing the right thing.

To see how we have come together, for our economy and for our environment – to see how former adversaries are working together, and planning together, for a cleaner and stronger future – all this gives me a sense of renewed optimism for our country and for our environmental future.

The people in this room have shown that if we make the right investments – if we make the responsible choices – we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment.

Look at the past seven years. We’re cleaning up the great American rivers. We’ve speeded up toxic waste clean-ups. We’ve worked with industry to strengthen the public’s right to know about chemicals released into their air and water. America is taking strong measures on its own to fight global warming.

Our environment is cleaner than it has been in a generation. At the same time, we have entered the longest period of economic growth in our entire history. America has almost 21 million new jobs. Here in Detroit, you can be proud that after fourteen years of trailing Japan, America has led the world in car and truck production for six years in a row.

Today, we take the next great step forward – to create good new jobs for American families; to keep pollution out of our air and water; and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil at the same time.

It has been seven years since we first joined with the leading auto makers to create the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. Our goal was to work with the best manufacturers to come up with vehicles up to three times more efficient than what we had then -- with no sacrifice in performance, safety, or cost.

From the beginning, this partnership was designed to make our auto industry even more competitive in world auto markets. And it will.

As I announced last month, we can now look forward to a date in the next three or four years when cars with far greater fuel efficiency will be mass-produced, and on the showroom floors, being bought by American families.

We can also look forward to the day when families will be able to buy cars with remarkable new fuel cell technology – engines that run on water, and are likely to increase fuel efficiency by 400 percent. These vehicles will create no greenhouse gas emissions at all -- and the concept cars at this year’s auto show not only got over 100 miles per gallon, they can drive for 500 miles without re-fueling.

Starting next year, we’re going to expand this research partnership to place a greater focus on how we can produce cleaner and more fuel-efficient SUV’s as well as cars.

Today, we take another important step toward a cleaner, stronger future. Together with the nation’s leading manufacturers of heavy trucks and truck components, we are launching a new 21st Century Trucks Initiative – to dramatically improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions from America’s heavy trucks and buses.

Through the hard work of all the people in this room, we believe we can double the fuel economy of an eighteen-wheeler by 2010. And we believe we can triple the fuel economy of heavy pick-up trucks and large delivery vans in that same period.

This new partnership will save businesses, truckers, and taxpayers billions of dollars a year in reduced fuel costs -- while cleaning the air and helping to combat global warming.

And the United States Army, which owns a quarter of a million trucks and buys them for all our armed forces, will be a strong and central partner in developing the new technologies, in buying them, and in putting them on the road. In fact, since more efficient military trucks can go a lot farther without refueling, this partnership will increase our Army's fighting strength.

Just as importantly, by investing in these energy-efficient trucks and technologies – by encouraging their purchase and their use – we can cut America’s reliance on foreign oil, which will mean lower prices at the gas pump, not just in the near-term, but in the long-term.

This new partnership pursues a strategy against pollution that must reach across our economy, and all around the world in the coming years. A strategy that sees people as allies, not adversaries, in meeting environmental challenges. An approach that builds upon our responsibilities to one another – to the air, the water, and the land that we hold in common, across borders and across the generations.

It continues a journey that many of us have made for many years now. I remember one part of my own journey a decade ago, in a different kind of vehicle – one that moves just a bit faster than today’s showroom models.

The trip was on the U.S.S. Pargo – a nuclear submarine that traveled under the Arctic ice sheet all the way from Greenland to the North Pole.

When we reached the pole, the sub broke through the summer icepack – and as I climbed through the hatch, I caught my first glimpse of the North Pole. The light was stunningly bright; clouds of ice crystals sparkled in the frozen air.

That submarine was part of a U.S. fleet patrolling secret routes under the ice – routes that took our subs and missiles close to the former Soviet Union’s northern border. In the process, the Navy had been collecting data about the thickness of the ice cap – merely to identify spots where subs could break through the ice.

Most of the information that was gathered had no national security purpose – so it was recorded and stored, but never examined or analyzed. It was “exformation” – it existed, but no one knew what it said.

As that submarine returned from the pole, deep beneath the ice, it occurred to me that if we shared this data with scientists, we could map a timeline of the ice cap, and the effects of global warming.

When I returned to Washington, I began to discuss the idea with our military and intelligence agencies. One hundred top environmental scientists gained top-secret clearance to review the data, and scrub it of anything that could compromise our national security. Later, as Vice President, I held a conference with Russian government officials and scientists, where both sides agreed to share our scrubbed data about the Arctic – as well as previously-secret sonar and satellite data about the northern oceans.

The results were startling. We learned that the Arctic ice cap had thinned by 40 percent since the 1970’s – a story that made headlines all over the world. The loss has averaged four inches a year for the past decade.

When I first started working on this issue more than two decades ago, this information was accumulating – but no one had ever seen it. It was easier to make excuses, to ignore the threat altogether, or to attack the messenger.

Now it is increasingly clear that global pollution risks not only our quality of life, but the very fabric of life itself.

Each generation of Americans has its own unique challenge, its own special responsibility.

In this decade, in this generation, we have been given one of the greatest responsibilities of all: saving the environment -- not just for ourselves, not just for our children, but for generations far into the future.

I believe we have to make the next ten years the Environment Decade, in America and around the world.

I believe we can and must turn the tide against pollution and global warming. And the people standing here today are proving that we can save our environment and safeguard human health – while sustaining our economy as the strongest in the world.

We know there are still powerful apologists for pollution – despite the new partnerships we are forging together. Some will always argue that pollution is the inevitable price we pay for our prosperity.

That is false; and even worse, it invites and excuses a politics of environmental irresponsibility. A lot of us have been fighting against this irresponsibility for a long time.

I remember the fierce criticism I got eight years ago, when I wrote “Earth in the Balance.” I expected that criticism then, and I wear it as a badge of honor today.

The critics rushed to assail the idea that we could create cleaner, more efficient cars, and end our dependence on the internal combustion engine over a period of, say, 25 years.

We were told that this process would mean an end to the auto industry. In fact, we all know now that it will mean new, more efficient, more competitive cars and trucks; it will mean new jobs for Michigan, and new business for America.

So let me say to the critics on this issue: the people in this room – the workers, the manufacturers, and the business leaders of Michigan – are proving that the skeptics were wrong.

And I have an admission to make. I was wrong, too, when I thought we could end our reliance on the internal combustion engine in 25 years. Because of our work together, we can do it in less than 25 years – while preserving and creating good jobs.

That is why the companies here today are investing so heavily in cleaner, more efficient engines. They know it’s a smart investment. By seeing to it that America leads the growing market for cleaner cars and trucks with lower gas mileage, we will create jobs, not destroy them – good union jobs for Teamsters, for the UAW, and for all working Americans. We will strengthen industry, not weaken it. We will sell more to the world, not less.

We have heard – and in the months ahead, I’m sure we will hear – every possible scare tactic on this issue. But we will not give in, and we will not back down.

It is not extreme but mainstream to champion cleaner fuels, and energy efficiency. It’s the right thing to do – and it’s the responsible thing to do.

When it comes to our air, our water, and the Earth itself, we all have a responsibility to look not just to ourselves, not just to the politics of the moment, but to future generations.

This weekend, we mark the 30th anniversary of the first Earth Day – and the first Earth Day of the 21st Century.

Earth Day has always been a recognition of our most powerful common link, the air, the water, and the planet we share. This year, on this Earth Day, let us renew our resolve to meet our responsibility –

To achieve strong and sustainable growth that does not undermine human health, or disrupt the climate of the world.

To forge a future where none of our children have to worry whether the water they drink or the air they breathe is safe and pure.

To create a more livable America -- where there are parks and open spaces, instead of endless, cookie-cutter sprawl; where families can walk and bike and play together; where a clean environment and a high quality of life are a source of security, dynamism, and hope for the future.

In the Environment Decade, we must form partnerships with every industry – just like the ones here today, which will produce fuel-efficient trucks that the critics said could never be made.

In the Environment Decade, we have to make the free market the friend of the environment, not its enemy – and the clearest examples are our partnerships for cleaner cars and trucks.

In the Environment Decade, we have to invest more in conservation, in renewable energy, and in fast-growing technologies that combat pollution.

In the Environment Decade, we need to enforce tough, realistic, achievable standards to reduce smog and soot, and protect our children’s health.

In the Environment Decade, we have to expand the right to know to every area where pollution of any kind threatens public health. As we work to clean up abandoned Brownfields and toxic waste sites, parents need to know if a street-corner is unsafe – or if poisonous chemicals can lead to sickness and disease.

In the Environment Decade, we have to protect our forests and our rivers and our precious public lands – so that families have places where they can hike and climb, and reach out toward the stars.

In the Environment Decade, we have to encourage smarter growth, and more livable neighborhoods – so every community will have the chance to grow according to its own values, in a way that preserves its own character.

In the Environment Decade, we must also meet persistent global environmental challenges. We must continue to ban the chemicals that eat away at our ozone layer and expose us to dangerous, cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. If we face this challenge head-on, we have the prospect of completely closing the ozone hole over Antarctica over the next two generations.

And in this time, we must take decisive steps – not just in this country, but everywhere -- against global warming. I believe we have to ratify the Kyoto agreement, which would commit America to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

I know we don’t yet have a consensus on this issue -- and that many in this room may still have disagreements. I feel very strongly that we must move forward. But I pledge to you today: I will work with all of you, to move forward in a way that is good for our economy, good for our environment, and good for the entire world.

We must ensure that all developed and developing nations are committed to doing their part. And I believe we can combat global warming in a way that creates jobs – by aggressively pursuing a global market for new energy technology that is expected to reach $10 trillion in the next two decades.

I know these challenges are not easy. And for me, they have never been without controversy. More than a decade ago, when I set out to write “Earth in the Balance,” I was warned not to do it; that it was politically foolish to make so clear a commitment to environmental protection, written down in black and white, for all to see.

But for me, a commitment to the environment has always run deeper than politics. We have to do what’s right for our environment, because it involves all of our lives – from the simple security of knowing that our drinking water is safe, to the more ominous thinning of the ice caps at the top of the Earth.

One hundred years from now, when our great grandchildren gather to mark the first Earth Day of the 22nd Century, I want them to know that we were thinking of their time with the same vision, the same dedication, and the same commitment that we applied to our own time.

I want them to know that their future meant more to us than the irresponsible pursuit of short-term gain.

For the earth is in the balance. Save it we can, and save it we must – for this is the great responsibility of our generation. Now let us resolve to finish the job. Thank you.


Kyoto Climate Change Conference

Partnership For a New Generation of Vehicles

Earth Day 2000

Glacier National Park

The 25th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act

Remarks at Chornobyl National Museum

Yellowstone National Park 125th Anniversary

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