Remarks by John H. Gibbons

Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

before the

Piedmont Environmental Council Annual Meeting

September 11, 1


Thank you for inviting me here today to the Piedmont Environmental Council. Iam delighted to be in such good company and in such a tranquil place -- whilerevolutionary change swirls around us. Thomas Jefferson described a revolutio nas the extraordinary event necessary to enable all the ordinary events tocontinue. And that, I believe, is exactly what is underway in the UnitedStates and other parts of the world. The advent of the Clinton Administrationreflects an extraordinary paradigm shift in our view of the world. We'readdressing the alleged paradox illustrated by a cartoon [High sol; Low qol].We replace that myth with the notion that there is no fundamental dichotomybetween conservation and progress. Indeed, our Nation has begun to recognizethat our future -- including our economy -- increasingly depends on morecareful stewardship of resources.

To paraphrase Aldo Leopold, the new paradigm is not man the conqueror, but manthe biotic citizen; not science the s harpener of his sword, but science thesearchlight on his universe; and not land the slave and servant, but land thecollective organism. This new land ethic, while still very much in its infancy45 years after Leopold wrote his Sand County Almanac and a century afterTeddy Roosevelt, is evident in several new policies of the ClintonAdministration. Let me give a few examples:

THE FOREST PLAN for a Sustainable Economy and a Sustainable Environment.The President addressed head on th e issue of how best to manage and protectfederal forest lands in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. Yearsof short-sighted and contradictory policy-making by previous Administrationshad fueled a region-wide battle that polarized communities , totally blocked anyrational policy making, and left decision-making in the courts. Focus on thespotted owl obscured the greater issues in which the owl is but an indicatorspecies of a much more pervasive problem: ecosystem overload from humanactiv ities. This Administration stepped in to provide an innovative,comprehensive, and balanced blueprint for forest management, fisheriesprotection, wilderness preservation, and economic development. The plan --developed after a full-day symposium involv ing the President and the VicePresident and based on careful analysis of the best available data -- providesfor a sustainable harvest based on scientifically sound and legally responsibleforest management, new job-creating investments in the region's e nvironment,innovative protections for valuable old growth forests and water and fisheriesresources, and new economic assistance to help workers, businesses, andcommunities to provide long-term, family-wage jobs and long-term economicdevelopment.

THE WETLANDS POLICY. The Administration has offered acomprehensive package of initiatives to break the longstanding deadlock overFederal wetlands policy. Five guiding principles led to this package: 1) aninterim goal of no overall ne t loss of remaining wetlands and a long-term goalof increasing the wetlands resources base; 2) a commitment to regulatoryprograms that are efficient, fair, flexible, and predictable; 3) a new emphasison non-regulatory programs, such as advance planning , wetlands restoration,inventory, and research; 4) expanded partnerships with State, Tribal, and localgovernments and with the private sector and individual citizens to ensurewetlands protection and restoration in an ecosystem/watershed context; and 5) abelief that wetlands policy should be based upon the best scientificinformation available, not on capricious and arbitrary decisions.

THE RESPONSE TO THE MISSISSIPPI FLOODS. The Administration's goal is toachieve a rapid and effective response to the damaged flood control system thatwill minimize risk to life and property, ensure a cost-effective long-termapproach to flood damage mitigation and floodplain management, and protectimportant environmental and natural resources values. Importantly, allagencies have been directed to consider, to the extent practical, nonstructuralalternatives (e.g., flood plains acquisition and easements) and designmodifications that could provide greater local benefits of flood control,reduction of future potential flood damages, especially in high value areassuch as cities, lower long-term costs to the Federal government, and naturalresource protection. The many miles of our river and stream corridors are someof our country's most valuable res ources, and there is growing publicrecognition that rivers have many values in addition to their traditionaleconomic uses. This Administration will encourage planning and policyinnovation involving a broad range of river and floodplain interests, whi chshould lead to decision-making that reflects a high degree of consensus.

THE ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT INITIATIVE. This initiative, which calls fordemonstration projects in ecosystem management, illustrates theAdministration's commitment to extend ethics to humankind's relation to landand to the animals and plants that grow upon it. Leopold described an ethic,in ecological terms, as a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle forexistence. He believed, and the President is acting upon this belief, thatextension of ethics to this third element in the human environment (beyondindividual relations and societal relations) was an ecological necessity. Wehave begun to abandon the concept of land-use as solely an economicconsiderat ion. We are examining each question in terms of what is ethicallyand aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient.Development of this ethic is clearly an evolutionary process, but now at leastwe have an Administration that is firmly committed to its promulgation.

This revolutionary paradigm shift has provided a framework for Federaltechnology programs, including environmental technologies. The administrationsimilarly is committed to development and demonstration of new env ironmentaltechnologies; to using the federal government's purchasing power to spur thedevelopment of a market for environmental products and services; to assistingbusinesses trying to commercialize or export environmental products andservices; to upda ting environmental regulations to encourage use of newenvironmental technologies; to investing in energy and resource efficiency inits own operations; to signing the International Biodiversity Treaty andcommitting to cut U.S. emissions of carbon dioxid e and other greenhouse gasesin the year 2000 back to the levels that obtained in 1990; and toreestablishing support for national and international family planningassistance. I mention population last because it is probably the mostfundamental paramet er that, in the long run, will determine whether we can beresponsible stewards of spaceship earth.

These and other actions we are undertaking reflect the overwhelming evidenceof past environmental neglect, inactions, and abuse, especially over t he lastdozen years or so. The need corrections won't come without political costs --for a number of sacred cows -- and oxen -- must be Gored, so to speak.And the reality of democratic governance is making tough trade-offs andcompromises.

If you believe your President has set out a sensible set of environmentalinitiatives, that the new directions we are taking are desired, then pleaselend a hand. To effect the kinds of change I've mentioned, we need yoursupport -- through the signal