[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[April 22, 1998]
[Pages 598-600]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 598]]

Remarks on Earth Day in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
April 22, 1998

    Thank you very much. Thank you for the welcome. I want to especially 
welcome all the young children and not-so-young children and all of you 
who feel childlike, even though you're not anymore, to this wonderful 
American celebration of Earth Day.
    I thank the Vice President for his 
steadfast, constant, and brilliant leadership to preserve our 
environment for future generations. I thank Congressman Bob Wise, who has been a good friend and an adviser and 
represents you so well. I want to thank our National Park 
superintendent, Bob Stanton. You know, I 
was sitting with Bob, and I said, ``You know something, you've got the 
best job in the whole Federal Government.'' And he said, ``I know, and 
they're foolish enough to pay me to do it every day.'' [Laughter]
    Mayor Stowell, thank you. Pam 
Underhill, thank you for your work at the 
Appalachian Trail Park; thank you for a lifetime of dedication to 
America's National Park System. And I'd like to ask all of you to give a 
round of applause to all the National Park employees who are here. They 
do a wonderful, wonderful job. [Applause]
    Finally, let me thank Sandi Marra and all 
the other volunteers who worked with the Vice President and me today to 
make sure 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 
all the stuff we just did and then do it right?'' [Laughter] I don't 
think so. I think we crossed the threshold of minimum competence as 
volunteers today.
    But let me say to you, Sandi, and to all the 
other volunteers that are here and those who will hear about what 
happens here today, the American people have utterly no idea how 
dependent not only the Appalachian Trail but the entire park system has 
been on citizen volunteers. And we who know need to do more to get out 
the word, but I hope you and all your fellow volunteers will continue to 
work. We need you; we honor you; and we're very grateful. Thank you very 
    We came here today in part to highlight the work of the volunteers. 
Last year they gave over 8 million hours, the equivalent of $100 
million, in hard but loving labor to enhancing America's great outdoors.
    You know, the Appalachian Trail was conceived of 100 years ago by a 
teenager who was hiking among the sugar maples and spruce trees in New 
Hampshire, in the White Mountains. Benton MacKaye imagined connecting 
the country all the way from New England to Georgia with a hiking trail 
and, in the process, reconnecting Americans to the wonders of nature. As 
MacKaye said, ``Life for 2 weeks on a mountaintop would give renewed 
perspective to the other 50 weeks down below.'' Do you mind if I stay 
here another 13 days? [Laughter] That's pretty good.
    And so began the Appalachian Trail, the brainchild of a teenager; 
the product of generations of cooperation; one of our most precious 
national gems; the longest natural thoroughfare in the world passing 
through four of seven forested habitats of North America; a haven for 
rare plants and animals. And thanks to many of you here today, this 
Appalachian Trail surely has surpassed even Benton MacKaye's wildest 
    Today, on our 28th annual Earth Day, we come here to the stunning 
confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac Rivers to celebrate the 
foresight of early conservationists and to commit ourselves to carry 
forth their abiding sense of responsibility to future generations in the 
new millennium.
    I'd like to take just a couple of minutes to tell you what the 
agenda the Vice President and I have adopted for the coming year is. 
First, we want to preserve even more of our natural wonders. In the 
historic balanced budget agreement, we have the means to save the 
ancient redwoods of the Headwaters Forest in California, to protect 
Yellowstone from the ravages of mining. And I am proposing to add 100 
new sites to our Nation's endowment of sacred places. We should begin by 
bringing the last remaining sections of the Appalachian Trail under 
public control, thereby making every inch a part of our children's 
    Among other priorities of providing a critical winter range for elk 
and bison and restoring salmon runs in Washington's Elwha River, what

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I want to say to you today is that the money has been authorized and 
appropriated for all 100 of these projects but not yet released. As a 
courtesy and a practice of long standing, administrations notify 
Congress of the intended project target. And sometimes there is an 
objection, sometimes a legitimate one, to one or two of them. We have 
put together a great list of 100; none of the money for any of the 
projects have been released because of actual or potential disputes on 
other issues.
    So if you can do anything, if any of you live in congressional 
districts--aside from Congressman Wise, 
he's not the problem--I hope you'll do it, because we need to get about 
the work and do it now. The money is there, the economy is in good 
shape, the budget is going to be balanced. We have made this commitment 
to our future, and I'd like to see us get it done. So I'd like to ask 
you to encourage your Congress to support the release of this fund.
    Second, as part of our celebration of the millennium in which we 
will both honor our past and imagine our future, we have to expand our 
efforts to preserve our places richest in cultural and historic values, 
sites that echo with America's most important stories. That's what we 
see here in Harpers Ferry--the other part of Harpers Ferry: the story of 
John Brown, the story of pre-Civil War America. And we have just 
unveiled an initiative to preserve the homes, the churches, the other 
sanctuaries all along the route of the Underground Railroad, the route 
to freedom for Harriet Tubman and thousands of other fleeing slaves. It 
also includes part of the Appalachian Trail.
    Third, as the Vice President said, we want to improve our ability to 
encourage and support better stewardship on our private lands, through 
voluntary partnerships to help private landowners preserve their own 
land. Of the more than 100 million acres we have protected during the 
last 5 years, more than three-quarters are privately owned. It's a real 
tribute to the American people that they want to manage their property 
properly, and I believe it's the right thing for our Government to do, 
to get out there and create the incentives and the partnership and the 
support for them to do so.
    For example, right here in the Appalachian region, acid drainage 
from abandoned coal mines have polluted streams severely, endangering 
plant and animal life. But now we're working with mining companies to 
create natural buffers to stop pollution from flowing in the streams. 
Citizens already are reporting that fish stocks are recovering, for the 
first time since the early part of this century.
    Successful local models like this are at the core of the clean water 
initiative I announced in February. We must do more of this. Wherever 
people are willing to help us with private property to restore 
biodiversity, we need to support it. And I thank you for your support.
    Fourth, we want to change and broaden the focus of how we manage our 
national forests, putting greater emphasis on recreation, wildlife, and 
water quality--forest values too long ignored. We're reforming logging 
practices to ensure sustainable supplies of timber and jobs.
    Our national forests are more than mere paper plantations. They are 
the source of the vast majority of our fresh water and as places where 
far more families experience the outdoors than anywhere else in America. 
So I urge Congress today on Earth Day: Let's make our national forests a 
common ground, not a political battleground.
    Fifth, we must commit to healing the wear and tear in our 
magnificent but often quite overextended national parks. Many parks, 
refuges, and monuments are in dire need of repair, ironically, because 
the American people love them so much. Countless Americans set off for 
their vacations every year knowing they can have the best and most 
economical vacation in the world at a national park. Often it may be the 
only one they can afford and still might be the best one money can buy. 
We have to continue to honor this pact with the American people. And 
therefore, I have proposed an increase of nearly $1 billion over the 
next 5 years to carry on the work of repairing our National Park System.
    Finally, as the Vice President told us 
in his remarkable book, ``Earth In The Balance,'' years ago, we have to 
broaden our notion of stewardship of the environment to embrace our 
entire planet. The greatest environmental challenge we face today is 
that of global climate change. If we are growing more interdependent 
economically, if we are growing more interdependent socially, surely our 
interdependence environmentally is apparent to every thinking person. 
The world's leading climate scientists have warned that if we do not 
reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, the Earth will warm, the seas 
will rise, severe weather events will intensify and increase in number.

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    Fortunately, we know how to avert these dangers. We know we can make 
great progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through innovative 
technological, market-related solutions all around the world. We have 
made an unprecedented commitment here of more than $6 billion for 
research and development and tax incentives to promote new green 
technologies that will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emission. I 
hope you will all support that. And I hope you will tell your elected 
representatives it is a great investment in our children's future.
    You know, the Vice President mentioned Teddy Roosevelt, who is a 
particular favorite of mine among our past Presidents. Ever since Teddy 
Roosevelt started talking about conserving our natural resources, for 
100 years now, every time someone has said it, someone else says, ``If 
you do that, it will ruin the economy.'' And we now have 100 years of 
experience. They have uniformly been wrong every time they have said it 
for 100 years.
    And since 1970 and Earth Day and the Clean Air Act, we have heard it 
with repeated intensity. It has always been wrong. Every time we have 
taken a sensible, reasoned, but strong step to protect the environment, 
we have actually increased the diversity of our economy, the breadth and 
width of it, and increased jobs and strengthened the long-term economic 
prospects of our country.
    That is a lesson the whole world has to embrace now. We can only 
sustain economic growth if we can improve the environment, if we can 
reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if we can build a balanced future 
    So I hope that all of you, as you leave here on this Earth Day, will 
honor the great gifts God has given us, will honor our National Park 
employees and others who preserve our treasured resources with their 
careers, will honor these volunteers, but most of all, will promise 
yourselves to be the best possible citizen stewards of our resources.
    That is the ethic that inspired Americans to preserve Harpers Ferry, 
the landscape that President Jefferson said was worth a voyage across 
the Atlantic. That is the ethic that will enable us to honor our 
responsibilities as Americans well into the 21st century.
    Thank you, and happy Earth Day.

Note: The President spoke at 12:12 p.m. at the Point in Harpers Ferry 
National Historical Park. In his remarks, he referred to Robert G. 
Stanton, Director, National Park Service; Mayor Walton (Kip) Stowell of 
Harpers Ferry; Pamela Underhill, Park Manager, Appalachian National 
Scenic Trail, and volunteer Sandi Marra, member, Potomac Appalachian 
Trail Club. The National Volunteer Week proclamation of April 21 and the 
National Park Week proclamation of April 22 are listed in Appendix D at 
the end of this volume.