President Clinton Announces New Standards and Grants for Safe Drinking Water

Office of the Press Secretary
(Newport, Rhode Island)

For Immediate Release December 3, 1998


Oceanfront of Fort Adams State Park
Newport, Rhode Island

1:05 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. First of all, I want to thank TeriSullivan for her introduction and for her work here for you. She's up herewith all these politicians. I think she did a good job, don't you? Let'sgive her another hand. (Applause.)

I'd like to thank Governor Almond, Senator Chafee, Senator ReedSenator Pell, it's great to see you again -- Congressman Kennedy,CongressmanWeygand.

And, Mr. Mayor, thank you for making me feel so welcome heretoday. I met you, members of the Newport City Council. I think formerGovernor Sundlun is here. John DeVillars is our EPA RegionalAdministrator.And your Secretary of State, James Langevin, members of the legislature, Ithank you all.

I'd also like to say that I have two staff members who are herefrom Rhode Island, and I brought them home today, Karen Taramontano andMarjorie Tarmey. I thank them for their service. Thank you all for beinghere. (Applause.)

You know, when Patrick Kennedy was up here speaking, he saidthatI had been to Rhode Island five times. President Eisenhower came rightoverthere and stayed in that big yellow house and played golf. But onlyPresidentKennedy had been heremore times. And I told the Governor, I said, if you'll give mePresident Eisenhower's house and access to the golf course, I'llbreak the Kennedy record. (Applause.)

Actually, I feel compelled to admit, since we're herein this setting, that when I was a boy growing up, my greatestaspiration was to come to Rhode Island to play in the NewportJazz Festival. (Applause.) And I always thought as a child --you know, when I was 16, I thought that would be the measure ofmy success. I couldn't have dreamed I'd become President. Ithought, if I could just play one time in the Newport JazzFestival, I would know I had arrived. It's not too late -- in acouple of years maybe you'll let me come back when I getpracticed up and play. (Applause.)

On the way in here I thanked Senator Chafee inparticular for his help in trying to sensitize the Congress tothe great challenge of climate change and global warming. But onthis magnificent December day in Rhode Island, it's hard to seeit as a threat, I must say. I appreciate this wonderful day.I'm glad to be in the City by the Sea, the once and future homeof the America's Cup. (Applause.)

I thank you, too, for being such a vital center of ourUnited States Navy. And I also thank you for the work done hereto save the bay. I learned in preparation for this trip there'sa documentary on the origin of the Star Spangled Banner airingtonight, filmed right here at Fort Adams, overlooking thismajestic sweep of the Narragansett Bay. The film, obviously, isabout events which occurred during the War of 1812, in the battlesurrounding Fort McHenry. Interestingly enough, it was shortlyafter that that the British came up the Potomac and burned theWhite House, completely gutting it inside, nearly destroying ittotally.

I think it's very interesting that that film was madehere -- and that's because the Narragansett Bay looks almost thesame today as it did 200 years ago. You can be very, very proudof that, and I hope you are. (Applause.)

I came here today because I wanted to showcase yourremarkable efforts to save this bay. I hope this picture will bebroadcast all across the United States to people this afternoonand this evening. But I also wanted to talk about how yourcommunity and all communities across our nation can protect ourprecious water resources -- from the tap water to the rivers tothe lakes to the ocean.

Last week, on Thanksgiving, all Americans had theopportunity -- and I hope we took it -- to give thanks for thesegood times in our country. This month our economy will achievethe longest peacetime expansion in American history. (Applause.)We have nearly 17 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 28years, the lowest percentage of our people on welfare in 29 years-- (applause) -- the first balanced budget and surplus in 29years. For the first time in over 20 years the wages of allgroups of Americans, all income groups, are on the rise. Homeownership is the highest in American history.

In Rhode Island, unemployment is down to five percent.There's a lot of construction going on here in Newport -- theNavy is building the Strategic Maritime Research Center;high-tech industries are flourishing. Our country has a lot tobe thankful for.

But I think the question we should be asking ourselvesnow, particularly with all the financial turmoil going on in therest of the world, is what are we to make of the success Americahas now? Should we just relax and enjoy it? Or should weinstead say, this is a unique moment for us and we need to usethis moment of prosperity and confidence to look ahead to thisnew century, to the challenges our children will face, and do ourbest to use the resources we have now to meet the challenges oftomorrow? I think it is clearly what we should be doing, and Ithink most Americans agree. (Applause.)

So when you list those challenges -- giving all of ourchildren a world-class education so they compete in the globaleconomy; making sure all of our people have access to qualityhealth care and the protections in our patients' bill of rights;making sure that we have made the changes in the global economynecessary to avert the kind of terrible financial crises we'veseen engulfing Asia; saving Social Security for the 21st centuryin a way that does not bankrupt the children of the baby boomers;and, finally, I will predict to you the challenge of improvingthe environment, from global warming to cleaning up the ocean, topreserving our natural heritage, to preserving the cleanness ofour water and air, to dealing with the problems of toxic waste --all of these issues, I predict to you -- you look at all thechildren here -- will dominate America's public debate for thenext 30 years.

We now know something very important. We were talkingabout -- your congressional delegation and I were talking aboutit when we got off the plane today. We know something veryimportant. We know that for the last several years technologicaladvances have made it possible for us to grow our economy whileimproving the environment. Most people who have control overdecisions still believe that in order to grow the economy youhave to destroy the environment, and they just want to destroy itas slowly as possible. That is simply not true anymore. And Icame here to Rhode Island to say the American people need to leadthe way into the 21st century in saving the environment.(Applause.)

Now, I also want to say that the only way we're evergoing to make it is if we make this commitment as Americans,across party lines, across regional lines, and across all thelines of our various occupations and our different perspectives.

The first great environmental President of the UnitedStates was Theodore Roosevelt, a great, progressive Republican.When he launched our nation on the course of conservation at thedawn of our century, there were pessimists then who claimed thatprotecting the environment and expanding the economy wereincompatible. The American people proved them wrong and TheodoreRoosevelt right.

Then they said cutting pollution from cars would causeour economy to break down by the side of the road when weestablished air quality measures for automobiles. But we nowhave the most powerful automobile industry in the world again.America in the last three years has become number one in autoproduction again because our people are doing a good job withcleaner cars that are more productive and more efficient. Itdidn't wreck our economy, it just helped our environment.

There were people who said if we ban deadly pesticidesit would cause American agriculture to wither and decline, butthey were wrong. The more pure we have made the production ofour food, the more our farmers have come to dominate worldwidecompetition in agriculture.

There were those who said if we acted in New England tocurb acid rain it would be the worst economic disaster sinceNoah's flood. Well, they were wrong. The last six years provedthem wrong.

And I can give you example after example after example.Every time Americans have tried to clean the air, to clean thewater, to look to the future, there have been those who said, ifyou do this it will wreck the economy.

Now, let's use our imagination. Every time you figureout how to make the water cleaner, someone has to discoversomething, someone has to make it, someone has to adapt all themachinery to use it. That creates a lot of jobs. Every time youfigure out how to run a car on natural gas or on electricity, youcreate a whole new set of jobs for people. Every time you figureout how to advance the cause of clean water -- when we have todeal with the challenges of cleaning up the ocean, which will bea huge challenge that will directly affect the lives and thequality of life of every child in this audience, it will create alot of jobs.

We have got to get over this idea that protecting ourenvironment and the quality of our lives is somehow bad for theeconomy. It will be one of the cheap generators of high-wagejobs in the 21st century, and I hope you here in Rhode Islandwill lead the way. (Applause.)

With the strong support of your congressionaldelegation, we have launched an historic plan to help communitiesclean up our rivers and streams, because every river in Americashould be healthy enough for our children to fish and swim. As Ithink at least one of your members said earlier, the balancedbudget I signed in October will allow us to protect dozens ofmore natural and historic sites around the country, including theRhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the last remainingundeveloped coastal habitat in southern New England. And I thankall the officials here and the Vice President, who also lobbiedvery strongly for this.

Now, we are moving forward. We also had, as you heard,two Rhode Island rivers -- and since you pronouncedCryptosporidium, Senator Reed, I will try to pronounce theWoonasquatucket River -- (applause) -- and the Blackstone Riveras American Heritage Rivers. We're working with you to solve theproblems that led to beach closings and to restore criticalhabitats damaged by the North Cape oil spill. We must restoreyour valuable lobster fishery and preserve forever the health ofyour cherished coast.

We also have to do more on the water we drink. AsSenator Chafee said, with his great help and others westrengthened the Safe Drinking Water Act two years ago with avirtually unanimous vote in Congress, to zero in on contaminantsthat posed the greatest threat, to help communities upgradetreatment plants like the fine one I just visited.

This past summer I announced a new rule requiringutilities across the country to provide their customers regularreports on the quality of their drinking water. When it comes tothe water our children drink, Americans cannot be too vigilant.

Today I want to announce three other actions I amtaking. First, we're escalating our attack on the invisiblemicrobes that sometimes creep into the water supply. You heardSenator Reed refer to the tragic episode five years ago, early inmy presidency in Milwaukee, when Cryptosporidium contaminated thecity's drinking water, killing dozens of people and literallymaking more than 400,000 people sick.

Today, the new standards we put in place willsignificantly reduce the risk from Cryptosporidium and othermicrobes, to ensure that no community ever has to endure anoutbreak like the one the people of Milwaukee suffered.

Second, we are taking steps to ensure that when wetreat our water, we do it as safely as possible. One of thegreat health advances to the 20th century is the control oftyphoid, cholera, and other diseases with disinfectants. Most ofthe children in this audience have never heard of typhoid orcholera, but their grandparents cowered in fear of it, and theirgreat-grandparents took it as a fact of life that it would takeaway significant numbers of the young people of their generation. But as with so many advances, there are trade-offs. Wenow see that some of the disinfectants we use to protect ourwater can actually combine with natural substances to createharmful compounds. So today I'm announcing new standards tosignificantly reduce our exposure to these harmful byproducts, togive our families greater peace of mind with their water.

The third thing we are doing today is to helpcommunities meet these higher standards, releasing almost $800million to help communities in all 50 states to upgrade theirdrinking water systems, including more than $7 million forcommunities right here in Rhode Island, to give 140 millionAmericans safer drinking water. (Applause.)

Now, this is the sort of thing that we ought to bedoing in America -- tending to America's business, reachingacross party lines, looking into the future, thinking about ourchildren. I think it is a very important day.

Let me say that, as you think about the future, I hopeyou will think about how America will look in 10 or 20 or 30years. I hope you will tell all your elected representatives,with regard to party. We're on the edge of a new century and anew millennium. We're in a period of unusual economicprosperity. We have the confidence, we have the resources, andwe have the knowledge necessary to deal with these bigchallenges. You don't have every, every year in life when youcan deal with the big challenges. How many times in your ownlives have you had to worry about just how you were going to putthe next meal on the table, how you were going to confront thenext family emergency, how you were going to deal with the issueright in front of you?

Countries are like that, too. But now we have thischance, this precious chance to think about our children and ourgrandchildren and the big problems that they face -- theenvironment is one of them. We ought to seize this chance and doit for our children.

Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)

State-by-State Numbers on Safe Drinking Water Grants

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