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President Clinton Celebrates Earth Day at Harper's Ferry

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 22, 1998


The Point
Harper's Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia

12:12 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you for thewelcome. I want to especially welcome all the young children andnot-so-young children and all of you who feel childlike, even thoughyou're not anymore to this wonderful American celebration of EarthDay.

I thank the Vice President for his steadfast, constantand brilliant leadership to preserve our environment for futuregenerations. I thank Congressman Bob Wise, who has been a goodfriend and an advisor and represents you so well. I want to thankour National Park Superintendent, Bob Stanton. You know, I wassitting with Bob and I said, you know something, you've got the bestjob in the whole federal government. And he said, I know, andthey're foolish enough to pay me to do it every day. (Laughter.)

Mayor Stowell, thank you. Pam Underhill, thank you foryour work at the Appalachian Trail Park; thank you for a lifetime ofdedication to America's National Park system. And I'd like to askall of you to give a round of applause to all the National Parkemployees who are here. They do a wonderful, wonderful job.(Applause.)

Finally, let me thank Sandi Marra and all the othervolunteers who worked with the Vice President and me today to makesure we didn't mess up anything so badly. I walked away saying, now,I wonder if they're going to have to go along behind us and undo allthe stuff we just did and then do it right? (Laughter.) I don'tthink so. I think we crossed the threshold of minimum competence asvolunteers today.

But let me say to you, Sandi, and to all the othervolunteers that are here and those who will hear about what happenshere today, the American people have utterly no idea how dependentnot only the Appalachian Trail, but the entire park system has beenon citizen volunteers. And we who know need to do more to get outthe word, but I hope you and all your fellow volunteers will continueto work. We need you. we honor you, and we're very grateful. Thankyou very much. (Applause.)

We came here today in part to highlight the work of thevolunteers. Last year they gave over 8 million hours, the equivalentof $100 million, in hard, but loving labor to enhancing America'sgreat outdoors.

You know, the Appalachian Trail was conceived of 100years ago by a teenager who was hiking among the sugar maples andspruce trees in New Hampshire in the White Mountains. Benton MacKayeimagined connecting the country all the way from New England toGeorgia with a hiking trail, and in the process, reconnectingAmericans to the wonders of nature. As MacKaye said, "Life for twoweeks on a mountaintop would give renewed perspective to the other 50weeks down below."

Do you mind if I stay here another 13 days? That soundspretty good. (Applause.) And so began the Appalachian Trail, thebrainchild of a teenager, the product of generations of cooperation,one of our most precious national gems, the longest naturalthoroughfare in the world. Passing through four of seven forestedhabitats of North America, a haven for rare plants and animals, and,thanks to many of you here today, this Appalachian Trail surely hassurpassed even Benton MacKaye's wildest dreams.

Today, on our 28th Annual Earth Day, we come here to thestunning confluence of the Shenendoah and the Potomac Rivers tocelebrate the foresight of early conservationists and to commitourselves to carry forth their abiding sense of responsibility tofuture generations in the new millennium.

I'd like to take just a couple of minutes to tell youwhat the agenda the Vice President and I have adopted for the comingyear is. First, we want to preserve even more of our naturalwonders. In the historic balanced budget agreement we have the meansto save the ancient redwoods of the Headwaters Forest in California,to protect Yellowstone from the ravages of mining. And I amproposing to add 100 new sites to our nation's endowment of sacredplaces. We should begin by bringing the last remaining sections ofthe Appalachian Trail under public control, thereby making every incha part of our children's birthright. (Applause.)

Among other priorities of providing a critical winterrange for elk and bison, and restoring salmon runs in Washington'sElwha River, what I want to say to you today is that the money hasbeen authorized and appropriated for all 100 of these projects, butnot yet released. As a courtesy and a practice of longstanding,administrations notify Congress of the intended project target. Andsometimes there is an objection, sometimes a legitimate one to one ortwo of them. We have put together a great list of 100; none of themoney for any of the projects have been released because of actual orpotential disputes on other issues.

So if you can do anything, if any of you live incongressional districts -- aside from Congressman Wise, he's not theproblem -- I hope you'll do it, because we need to get about the workand do it now. The money is there, the economy is in good shape, thebudget is going to be balanced. We have made this commitment to ourfuture and I'd like to see us get it done. So I'd like to ask you toencourage your Congress to support the release of this fund.(Applause.)

Second, as part of our celebration of the millennium inwhich we will both honor our past and imagine our future, we have toexpand our efforts to preserve our places richest in cultural andhistoric values -- sites that echo with America's most importantstories. That's what we see here in Harper's Ferry, the other partof Harper's Ferry -- the story of John Brown, the story of pre-CivilWar America. And we have just unveiled an initiative to preserve thehomes, the churches, the other sanctuaries all along the route of theUnderground Railroad, the route to freedom for Harriet Tubman andthousands of other fleeing slaves. (Applause.) It also includespart of the Appalachian Trail.

Third, as the Vice President said, we want to improveour ability to encourage and support better stewardship on ourprivate lands, through voluntary partnerships to help privatelandowners preserve their own land. Of the more than 100 millionacres we have protected during the last five years, more thanthree-quarters are privately owned. It's a real tribute to theAmerican people that they want to manage their property properly, andI believe it's the right thing for our government to do, to get outthere and create the incentives and the partnership and the supportfor them to do so. (Applause.)

For example, right here in the Appalachian region, aciddrainage from abandoned coal mines have polluted streams severely,endangering plant and animal life. But now we're working with miningcompanies to create natural buffers to stop pollution from flowing inthe streams. Citizens already are reporting that fish stocks arerecovering, for the first time since the early part of this century.

Successful local models like this are at the core of theClean Water Initiative I announced in February. We must do more ofthis. Wherever people are willing to help us with private propertyto restore biodiversity, we need to support it. And I thank you foryour support. (Applause.)

Fourth, we want to change and broaden the focus of howwe manage our National Forests, putting greater emphasis onrecreation, wildlife, and water quality -- forest values too longignored. We're reforming logging practices to ensure sustainablesupplies of timber and jobs.

Our National Forests are more than mere paperplantations. They are the source of the vast majority of our freshwater, and as places where far more families experience the outdoorsthan anywhere else in America. So I urge Congress today on EarthDay: Let's make our National Forests a common ground, not apolitical background. (Applause.)

Fifth, we must commit to healing the wear and tear inour magnificent but often quite overextended National Parks. Manyparks, refuges, and monuments are in dire need of repair, ironically,because the American people love them so much. Countless Americansset off for their vacations every year knowing they can have the bestand most economical vacation in the world at a National Park. Oftenit may be the only one they can afford and still might be the bestone money can buy. We have to continue to honor this pact with theAmerican people. And, therefore, I have proposed an increase ofnearly $1 billion over the next five years to carry on the work ofrepairing our National Park system. (Applause.)

Finally, as the Vice President told us in his remarkablebook, "Earth In The Balance," years ago, we have to broaden ournotion of stewardship of the environment to embrace our entireplanet. The greatest environmental challenge we face today is thatof global climate change. If we are growing more interdependenteconomically, if we are growing more interdependent socially, surelyour interdependence environmentally is apparent to every thinkingperson. The world's leading climate scientists have warned that ifwe do not reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases the Earth willwarm, the seas will rise, severe weather events will intensify andincrease in number.

Fortunately, we know how to avert these dangers. Weknow we can make great progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissionsthrough innovative technological, market-related solutions all aroundthe world. We have made an unprecedented commitment here of morethan $6 billion for research and development and tax incentives topromote new green technologies that will dramatically reducegreenhouse gas emission. I hope you will all support that. And Ihope you will tell your elected representatives it is a greatinvestment in our children's future. (Applause.)

You know, the Vice President mentioned Teddy Roosevelt,who is a particular favorite of mine among our past Presidents. Eversince Teddy Roosevelt started talking about conserving our naturalresources, for 100 years now, every time someone has said it, someoneelse says, if you do that it will ruin the economy. And we now have100 years of experience. They have uniformly been wrong every timethey have said it for 100 years. (Applause.)

And since 1970 and Earth Day and the Clean Air Act, wehave heard it with repeated intensity. It has always been wrong.Every time we have taken a sensible, reasoned, but strong step toprotect the environment, we have actually increased the diversity ofour economy, the breadth and width of it, and increased jobs andstrengthened the long-term economic prospects of our country.

That is a lesson the whole world has to embrace now. Wecan only sustain economic growth if we can improve the environment,if we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if we can build a balancedfuture together.

So I hope that all of you, as you leave here on thisEarth Day, will honor the great gifts God has given us, will honorour National Park employees and others who preserve our treasuredresources with their careers, will honor these volunteers, but mostof all, will promise yourselves to be the best possible citizenstewards of our resources.

That is the ethic that inspired Americans to preserveHarper's Ferry, the landscape that President Jefferson said was wortha voyage across the Atlantic. That is the ethic that will enable usto honor our responsibilities as Americans well into the 21stcentury.

Thank you and happy Earth Day. (Applause.)

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