[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 19, 1998]
[Pages 246-249]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks Announcing the New Clean Water Initiative in Baltimore
February 19, 1998

    Thank you very much, Thank you. I don't know about you, but I 
thought that Larry Simns did a terrific job. Can 
we give him a hand? [Applause] I've been in public life long enough to 
know when a guy throws a sucker punch. When he got up there and said, 
``Oh, I'm just

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this lowly president of''--[laughter]--I thought this guy is fixing to 
give us a heck of a good talk. [Laughter] And sure enough, he did.
    I thank you for providing as much as anything else, Larry, a historic perspective, going back through generations 
of your family's life, and also reminding us that we all have a stake in 
clean water one way or another, and all of us who depend upon you and 
the people like you to provide us with good, clean, safe seafood have 
sometimes a bigger connection than even we're aware of.
    Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for your 
leadership and your inspiration to me over these last 5 years. Thank 
you, Secretary Glickman and Administrator 
Browner. I thank Senator 
Sarbanes, a truly remarkable person, for 
all the many wonderful things he has done for Maryland and with our 
administration. I thank Senator Mikulski, who doubles the energy of any room she is in. [Laughter] 
Barbara couldn't see me, but I was rolling my eyes when she said, well, 
she never dreamed she could get the President to come, and maybe it just 
happened to be--if you believe that--[laughter]. When she makes up her 
mind to do something--you're just like my dog, Buddy, grabbing a bone. 
[Laughter] I mean, you might as well go and say yes, because sooner or 
later you're going to do whatever it is she's decided that you're going 
to do. [Laughter] So I'm honored to be here.
    Congressman Cummings, thank you for 
your friendship and your leadership. Thank you, Governor. I was especially impressed by how you handled this 
recent pfiesteria outbreak and by what you said about it. And I thank 
you for all you've done. And, thank you, Lieutenant Governor 
Townsend. And, Mr. Mayor, 
thanks for your long friendship and your 
leadership here in Baltimore. I want to thank the Secretary of 
State and the city council members and all 
the others who are here. But especially I want to thank James Bond and his vice president, Mr. Rockefeller--[laughter]--and the AmeriCorps people 
and all the others.
    The Vice President and I had a 
wonderful time before we got out here. I know we were late, but we were 
having a good time. We saw these young people working in a woodworking 
shop. They made us two beautiful, beautiful rocking chairs. And I love 
rocking chairs. I got all kinds of different rocking chairs I've 
collected over the last 30-odd years, maybe more now. And I'll have 
theirs up at Camp David this weekend if I can possibly get there. If 
not, I'll have it at the White House. Anyway, I'm going to do my best to 
spend the weekend in this rocking chair that I was given today. 
    And we saw young people testing the water, young people rebuilding 
the shoreline. We saw a lot of work being done in the classrooms and on 
the computers following the ship around Cape Horn in South America 
today. And we saw them playing that computer game, ``Who Killed Rocky 
Rockfish?,'' which two of your teachers have developed, which was 
utterly fascinating to me. I never did find out who did it--[laughter]--
but the students promised to let me know when they do.
    This whole day has been a wonderful way of illustrating the point I 
want to make to America, which is that our concern about the 
environment--our concern for clean water in particular, but 
environmental matters in general--needs to be folded into the fabric of 
our daily life. It needs to be a part of how all of our children learn, 
how they learn science, how they learn about computers. It needs to be a 
part of how we think about the economy, as the Vice President said. And 
especially, we need to focus, for the next few years, on this whole 
issue of water quality.
    Now, I grew up in a landlocked State, so I didn't get to see a lot 
of bays when I was a boy. But I grew up in a town surrounded by three 
lakes. And when I was a child, some of the happiest days of my life were 
spent in the remote regions of the Arkansas Ozarks on the Buffalo 
National River, which was the very first river Congress set aside, over 
20 years ago, under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. And the character of 
our relationship to the water is one of the unique things about America 
that you can find going all the way back to the beginning and that you 
can see in the present day. I don't know what the numbers are, but 
there's this absolutely breathtaking percentage of the American people 
when they go on vacation every year, go looking for some kind of water.
    And the Governor was telling me on 
the way over here how when this project got started, the Living 
Classroom got started, one of the most troubling things to him was to 
see that some of the children in Baltimore had never even been to the 
bay and how they started--you know, you all say, taking the kids to the

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bay--so everybody could see these things. I think that is terribly 
    Some of you know that not very long ago I went home to Arkansas to 
bury my 91-year-old uncle, a man after who I named my beloved little 
dog--and I did that because he was an avid outdoorsman. When I ran for 
Governor of Arkansas, 20 years ago this year, I called my uncle, who had 
about a sixth grade education and about a 160 IQ, and I said, ``What do 
you think I ought to campaign on?'' He said, ``Heck, I don't care.'' He 
said, ``All I want you to do is keep the rivers clean enough for me to 
fish in and for the kids to swim in.'' He said, ``You fix that, and the 
rest of it will be all right.''
    There are an awful lot of people in this country who still feel that 
way. You heard what Larry said in his introduction--for 25 years we have 
made great progress in cleaning our waters. Largely this progress has 
come by controlling pollution from point sources, from factories and 
sewage plants. Yet, 40 percent of our Nation's waters are still too 
polluted for fishing and swimming--25 years after the Clean Water Act. 
That is unacceptable.
    That's what I was talking about in the State of the Union Address; 
that's what I'm here to talk about today in some greater detail. We must 
address the largest remaining challenge to cleaning our waters. We must 
curtail the runoff from farms, from city streets, from other diffuse 
sources of pollution that get into our waterways and pollute them.
    Every child deserves to grow up with water that is pure to drink, 
lakes that are safe for swimming, rivers that are teeming with fish. We 
have to act now to combat these pollution challenges with new 
protections to give all our children the gift of clean, safe water in 
the 21st century.
    Of course, it matters how we do this, but I want to say, every time 
we have taken a big step like this, always somebody says, ``There they 
go again. They're going to hurt the environment.'' I heard it again last 
year when we tried to take economy--well, we did take very strong 
standards--steps to clean the air more. But I would just remind you, in 
the last 25 years every single environmental step we have taken has 
unleashed a new round of technological renovation which has helped us to 
grow the economy more rapidly, with new, higher skilled, higher paying 
jobs, opening up new careers and new vistas for people. It is simply not 
true that taking further steps to clean our water is a threat to the 
economy. As Larry said in a very immediate way, it is actually essential 
to ensuring the long-term stability of our economy.
    And that is consistent with the approach we are taking. We want to 
give the American people the tools they need to make the most of their 
own lives, including to safeguard our national resources. This is the 
approach the Vice President insisted on 
back in October when he directed the EPA and the Department of 
Agriculture to come up with a plan to ensure clean, safe water. And 
that's the approach embodied in the clean water action plan we unveil 
    Here's what we want to do. First, forge partnerships through an 
innovative approach that gets everybody to focus on entire regions--not 
just on individual factories or individual sewage plants or individual 
farms but an entire region--and come up with the most cost-effective way 
to meet the clean water goal.
    Second, we want to work closely with States to identify the areas 
with the worst pollution problems and give local communities the tools 
and the resources they need to restore and protect those water 
    Third, we want to provide incentives to our farmers to take the 
actions that are needed to reduce polluted runoff from their fields and 
their pastures.
    And fourth, we have to protect public health through new strategies 
to safeguard the water we drink and the fish we eat. To help meet these 
goals, I have set aside in our balanced budget an additional $2.3 
billion over the next 5 years, over and above what we were spending 
    Now, if Congress will approve this request, we will be able to 
finish the job set out in the Clean Water Act 25 years ago, restoring 
our waterways and providing clean, safe water to every American. I ask 
the Congress to work with us, as they did in passing the Safe Drinking 
Water Act, to provide new and more flexible tools to protect our water 
by reauthorizing an even stronger Clean Water Act this year. We have to 
do that.
    In the last 5 years, one of the most encouraging things I have seen 
is a willingness on the part of Americans from different walks of life 
to sit down across the table and try to figure out how they can protect 
our natural resources in a way that's good and fair for everybody. 
The Vice President and I--I spent a day; he

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spent 2 days recently in Lake Tahoe, which is one of the two most 
perfectly blue deep-water lakes in the world--very much stressed now. 
And we were amazed to see people who just a couple of years ago were 
barely on speaking terms, people who thought they were conservative, 
hidebound developers who thought all environmentalists were insane tree 
huggers, and people who thought they were pure environmentalists who 
thought all developers were one step short of criminals, had shed all 
that, were actually--sit down, working with each other, because they 
finally realized they had a common interest in figuring out a way to 
preserve the environment.
    We've seen it in the Florida Everglades. We've seen it in the 
attempts to restore various wildlife, including the wolves, to 
Yellowstone Park. And we know we will have to see it if we're going to 
end this diffuse runoff problem that is polluting our water resources. 
We've seen it here in Maryland, where farmers are setting aside tens of 
thousands of acres to establish buffers between farms and waterways. We 
have just signed an agreement, interestingly enough, to provide some 
money to Minnesota so that they can have a program just like you have 
already implemented here. And in a State with 10,000 lakes, they need to 
follow Maryland's lead, and it will be good for America when this 
    I believe the secret to making the preservation and enhancement and 
restoration of our environment a part of the fabric of life in America 
is to have more opportunities like the Living Classroom, is to have more 
people like Larry Simns, who will go and talk to people who don't know 
what he sees every day, to have more enlightened leadership at the local 
level. But we in Washington have our responsibility, too. If you want 
those children who are here working in all these classrooms to live out 
their promise, then we have to provide a framework within which all 
these efforts can succeed. We can afford over $2 billion for clean 
water. We can do it and balance the budget. What we cannot afford is to 
walk away from our responsibilities to give all the young people in this 
audience and all the people out across America they represent the clean 
water they deserve in the 21st century.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1 p.m. at the Living Classrooms Foundation. 
In his remarks, he referred to Larry Simns, president, Maryland 
Watermen's Association; Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen 
Kennedy Townsend of Maryland; Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore; Maryland 
Secretary of State John T. Willis; James Bond, president, and Parker 
Rockefeller, vice president, Living Classrooms Foundation.