Thirty years ago, the fight for clean air, safe water, and healthy land was understood simply as a fight for the "environment." Today, Americans understand that a sound environment is absolutely integral to their hopes for continued prosperity and a better quality of life. A healthy environment is the very foundation of a healthy community.
Through a series of initiatives, President Clinton and Vice President Gore are helping communities across the country take steps that strengthen both the environment and the economy. New programs to clean up and redevelop contaminated urban properties are creating jobs and revitalizing neighborhoods. And increased funding to expand public transit and preserve open space is helping communities forge new strategies against sprawl.
By providing new tools and resources, the Administration is expanding the choices available to communities so they can chart their own path to a more sustainable future.
Livable Communities Initiative
Last year, Vice President Gore launched a new Livable Communities initiative to coordinate and enhance federal programs that can help communities grow in ways that ensure a high quality of life and strong, sustainable economic growth. One of the first steps was creation of a website www.livablecommunities.gov that provides citizens with a comprehensive guide to tools and resources available from the federal government. These include programs to encourage "smart growth," ease traffic congestion, preserve historic structures, protect farmland, fight crime, and improve water quality.
The Administration secured increased funding for these efforts this year, and is proposing another increase next year. The new budget proposal includes $700 million in tax credits over five years for new Better America Bonds, which would generate $10.75 billion for state, tribal, and local investments to save green space, create or restore urban parks, protect water quality, and clean up brownfields.
Brownfields are abandoned properties often in distressed urban neighborhoods suffering real or perceived contamination from past industrial use. Cleaning up and redeveloping these sites not only breathes new economic life into inner cities, but also helps preserve green space by easing development pressures on the urban fringe.
The Clinton-Gore Administration has launched several initiatives to accelerate the cleanup of brownfields and remove barriers to their redevelopment. Since 1995, the Administration has removed more than 30,000 of these sites from the Superfund database, relieving potential developers of unnecessary red tape and removing the stigma of contamination. More than 300 communities across America have received nearly $70 million in seed grants, leveraging over $1.6 billion in private investment for cleanup and redevelopment. As an additional incentive, the Administration secured a tax incentive allowing businesses to fully deduct certain brownfields cleanup costs in targeted areas through 2001.
American Heritage Rivers
Scores of communities in 46 states and the District of Columbia nominated rivers for designation under the initiative. In 1998, the President named 14 American Heritage Rivers. The rivers from New York's Hudson to the Lower Mississippi to Hawaii's Hanalei reflect the extraordinary diversity of America's waterways. Some flow through pristine forest, others the inner city. Some have been largely restored, while others remain heavily polluted. For each river, the Administration has appointed a "river navigator" to help communities identify federal programs and resources that can assist them in implementing their restoration plans.
Historically, low-income and minority communities have borne a disproportionate share of the pollution and other environmental harm associated with America's industrial development. In 1994, President Clinton issued an Executive Order to ensure that low-income citizens and minorities do not suffer an unfair pollution burden, and that all communities have adequate environmental protection. The Order directs each federal agency to "make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse human health effects" its actions may have on low-income and minority populations. It requires agencies to prepare environmental justice strategies and to encourage community participation in their decision-making.
The Administration has also helped spur new investment in low-income and minority communities through its support of brownfields redevelopment, expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and designation of Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities.
President's Council on Sustainable Development
Launched in 1993, the President's Council on Sustainable Development brought together government, corporate and environmental leaders to develop consensus strategies for meeting America's environmental challenges in ways that promote continued prosperity, social equity, and a high quality of life.
Thousands of people across the country contributed to the Council's deliberations through workshops, conferences, and public meetings. The Council helped create a national network of community groups working to promote sustainable development, and was instrumental in building support within the business community for addressing global climate change. Its third and final report, Towards a Sustainable America, recommended 140 actions addressing issues such as sprawl, climate change, urban renewal, and corporate environmental responsibility. The Council concluded its work last year by co-sponsoring the National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America in Detroit, which brought together community and corporate leaders from across the country to share and learn from each others' experiences.
Promoting Transportation Alternatives
As communities spread further outward and commuting distances grow, roadways become increasingly congested. According to recent estimates, nearly half of peak travel time is under congested conditions, and Americans waste half a billion hours a year stuck in traffic.
To help ease traffic congestion and combat air pollution, the Clinton-Gore Administration has worked to provide communities with a broader range of transportation choices. Since 1993, federal funding for buses, light rail and other forms of transit has risen more than 50 percent, to nearly $5.8 billion this year. The Administration also has won increased funding for bike paths, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, ridesharing, and other strategies that reduce both congestion and pollution. For the coming year, President Clinton has proposed a record $9.1 billion for public transit and other programs to ease congestion.
In the early 1990s, Bridgeport was suffering through hard economic times, and nowhere was the decay more evident than at the old Jenkins Valve industrial site at the city's main gateway. Like thousands of other "brownfields" across the country, the site was burdened with industrial contamination that scared off potential investors.
But with seed money from the Administration's brownfields program, the city performed a site evaluation that helped attract a developer. The Zurich Re Corporation invested $11 million in cleanup and redevelopment, and the city and state kicked in another $3 million. In addition to the ballpark, home to the minor-league Bridgeport Bluefish, the long-idle site will eventually house an indoor ice-skating rink and a new museum.
"This is what urban revitalization is all about. This very site which used to be the scourge of Fairfield County is now the region's most exciting new entertainment venue," said Mickey Herbert, majority owner of the Bluefish. "I'd be genuinely surprised if there's a more dramatic example of success with brownfields reclamation than right here at our ball park."
The Mississippi River floods of 1993 were the costliest in U.S. history, and few paid a dearer price than the people of Valmeyer, Illinois. Their town was utterly destroyed.
They decided there was only one way to be sure it wouldn't happen again: rebuilding the town on higher ground. And while they were at it, they decided to make the new Valmeyer a model of sustainable development.
One of the places they turned was the Department of Energy, which dispatched a team of experts to help incorporate state-of-the-art technologies into the new homes and the new town's design. The state also pitched in, offering grants of up to $1,700 to homeowners who used energy-efficient windows, low-flow showerheads and toilets, energy-saving heating and cooling systems, and other conservation measures.
These and other measures, including solar power, have cut resident's energy bills about 30 percent. Village Administrator Dennis Knobloch said the school system, police and fire departments, and other government offices, are saving around $80,000 a year.
"We feel the effort put forth at the beginning of the process to involve both state and federal energy departments has really helped to benefit our citizens," said Knobloch, "and we will be reaping those benefits for years to come."
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