[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[August 11, 1998]
[Pages 1430-1432]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 1430]]

Remarks at the Harry Tracy Water Filtration Plant in San Bruno, 
August 11, 1998

    Thank you very much. Good morning. I asked Lorraine if any of her 
children were here, and she said they were all here. I would like to ask 
the members of your family to stand. Everybody in Lorraine's family, 
stand. [Applause] Good for you. There are your children, your husband. 
Thank you all. I'd say they were worth fighting for.
    Good morning, everyone. Thank you for braving this beautiful but 
rather warm California sunshine to participate in this event. Thank you, 
Mr. Mayor. Thank you, Ann Caen, for your service and the reference to 
Herb. Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis, for your support for 
the environment. Thank you to Superintendent Paul Mazza and the members 
of the facility here, all of the people who work here. I'd like to thank 
them for what they do to help improve the lives of the people in this 
area. Thank you very much. I know we have members of the San Mateo board 
of supervisors and other--perhaps other officials here.
    And I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to Congressman 
Tom Lantos and especially for the reference he made to the terrible 
events a few days ago in Kenya and Tanzania. We now have--as the 
Congressman mentioned, the American citizens who were killed there are 
coming home, and Hillary and I will go to Andrews Air Force Base to meet 
that sad homecoming plane on Thursday. In addition to that, you should 
know now, over 200--well over 200 African citizens have been killed and 
almost 5,000 injured. There are over 500 people still in the hospital in 
Nairobi in Kenya.
    I think it's important for me to tell you that we have worked very 
closely with the Governments of Kenya and Tanzania in, first of all, 
determining and finding those who were killed and those who were injured 
and now in their treatment. And also they are working very closely with 
us in our attempts to find those who are responsible.
    And I know this is terribly frightening to people when something 
like this happens, but in an ever more open world where people are 
traveling more and where more information and technology and, 
unfortunately, weaponry are available across national lines, and more 
and more information through the Internet, I think it is important that 
we all, as Americans, send a clear signal to the world that we are not 
going to back away from our involvement with other people, and we are 
not going to back away from our opposition to terrorism. It makes us 
more vulnerable as targets because we have taken the toughest stand 
around the world against terrorism. Now is the time to bear down, not 
back up, on that. And that is my determination. And I believe that's 
what the American people support, and I hope all of you will.
    Let me say that today is a happy day because it marks another step 
forward in our attempt to bring the American people the kind of life I 
believe that all hard-working citizens deserve. It is tempting because 
our own country has enjoyed so much prosperity and a declining crime 
rate, declining welfare rolls, and declining other social problems, 
rising wages. Particularly in a place like California, where you had 
such a tough time for so many years, it's tempting at a good time like 
this for everybody to say, ``Okay, we went through all those tough 
times. Now we've got good times. Mr. President, leave us alone. We want 
to relax. We want to enjoy this. We want to chill out.'' I think that's 
what some people say.
    I think that would be a mistake. Why? Because all you have to do is 
pick up the newspaper any day or watch the news any night, and we see 
how fast the world continues to change--always changing--the ay we work, 
the way we live, the challenges we face, the way we relate to each other 
and the rest of the world. At a time like this we should take our 
prosperity and the self-confidence it has given us as a country and say, 
``What are the challenges of the future? And how can we use this moment 
of opportunity, because we're doing well, to take care of the long-term 
challenges to our children's future and to make America what it ought to 
    We have to, for example, save Social Security for the 21st century, 
before all the baby boomers retire and impose unbearable strains on the 
system as it's now constituted. We have

[[Page 1431]]

to make our elementary and secondary schools the best in the world, just 
as our higher education system is now. We have to prove that we can 
provide affordable and quality health care to all people, which is why 
I've fought so hard for this Patients' Bill of Rights.
    We have to expand opportunity into inner-city areas and rural areas 
and Native American reservations where there has been no recovery yet. 
We have to prove we can live together as one America as we get more 
diverse. We have to, as Tom Lantos said, fulfill our responsibilities in 
the world, because we cannot grow and prosper at home unless we are also 
strong abroad in pursuit of peace and freedom and prosperity.
    But one thing we clearly have to do is to prove that we can grow our 
economy while we improve the environment and public health. The two 
things must never be seen in conflict. When they are, we pay a price 
that is terrible, first in the environment, second in public health, and 
eventually in the health of our economy.
    And one example of that is what we're here to talk about today, the 
importance of our drinking water. It may have been gold that brought 
people to California 150 years ago, but water has enabled them to stay 
here and enabled this State to grow and expand to the point where now 
California comprises 13 percent of our entire Nation's population. It 
may be that the clear water that flows down the Sierra slopes and was 
miraculously, a long time ago, through pipes and channels, taken into a 
reservoir here to provide water for this area was an even greater 
discovery than the gold. I think clearly it was.
    Few States are blessed with such a supply of fresh water, and none 
have done more to put it to productive use than California. Still, 
although there are problems, and I understand there are still disputes 
over water, I have seen in my own administration how, by working 
patiently together with different groups, cooperation can win out to 
protect this vital resource so there's enough for the farms, for the 
wildlife, and for the people.
    Now, we also have to work to assure the quality as well as the 
supply. That's what we're here to talk about today. Mrs. Ross told you 
about what happened to her family and others in the Silicon Valley. Five 
years ago, the citizens of Milwaukee found themselves with 400,000 
people sick, dozens of people dead because a microbe called 
cryptosporidium had contaminated their water supply.
    The Vice President and I have worked hard to deal with this issue, 
to strengthen the Safe Drinking Water Act, to help communities upgrade 
treatment plants, and to zero in on contaminants posing the greatest 
threat. We required more industries to publicly disclose the chemicals 
they release into the air and water. The results of that have been quite 
remarkable. The factories required to provide this information--listen 
to this, just the community right-to-know--the factories required to 
provide the information about the chemicals they release into the air 
and water have reduced their toxic releases by almost half. That's what 
right-to-know can do.
    Now, today we take another important step to empower communities 
with information. Beginning next year, under a new EPA community right-
to-know rule I'm announcing today, water systems across our country must 
give their customers regular reports on the water flowing from their 
taps, to tell consumers where the water comes from, whether it meets 
Federal standards, as well as the likely source of any contaminants and 
their potential health effects.
    Thanks to these reports, contamination in the water will no longer 
be invisible to the eye. Families will see at a glance whether their 
drinking water is safe. When it is not, utilities will have a crystal-
clear incentive to clean it up, and citizens like Lorraine Ross will not 
have to fly blind. They will be able to come up all over America, and 
they will know what they have to work with and what they must work 
    Safe water for our children is something all Americans agree on. 
This should not be a partisan issue. We've improved the quality of 
drinking water so much over the years, in fact, because of a bipartisan 
effort. And yet, there is in Congress today a disturbing trend to break 
up what has historically, at least for the last 30 years, been a 
bipartisan consensus on the environment. If there is ever an area where 
we need progress, not partisanship, it is to ensure the purity and 
safety of our environment. But there is a question about that. So far, 
Congress has refused to fund my clean water action plan that would help 
to restore the--listen to this--the 40 percent of our waters that are 
still too polluted for fishing and swimming.

[[Page 1432]]

    In February, I proposed to add 100 national and historic sites 
across our country to our endowment of protected areas. One of the 
things I'm proudest of that our administration has done is that we have 
protected more land in perpetuity than any administration in history 
except those of the two Roosevelts. And now we have 100 more sites, 
places like Bair Island, a haven for endangered wildlife in San 
Francisco Bay, and the gravesite of John Muir, perhaps the greatest 
preservationist of all time. Believe it or not, the money has been 
appropriated for all these sites, but under the law, once they're 
selected, the congressional leaders must approve its release. So far, 
that approval has not been forthcoming for months and months. Today, for 
the sites in California and throughout the country, again I ask Congress 
to release the funds already approved so we can preserve these precious 
    We need progress and not partisanship in our efforts to avoid the 
degradation of our ocean waters. We had a big ocean conference out here 
on the Monterey Peninsula not very long ago. And we need it in our 
efforts to combat climate change and to do America's part.
    Just yesterday the Vice President announced new data showing that 
the month of July was the hottest month ever recorded since climate 
records have been kept on Earth. This is not some fly-by-night 
phenomenon. The 9 hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the last 
11 years; '97 was the hottest year ever measured; every month in '98 has 
been hotter than the preceding month in '97. And we need to work 
    Yet many in Congress want to cut the common-sense technology, 
market-oriented initiatives I have proposed to reduce our greenhouse gas 
emissions and to do America's part. We can grow this economy, reduce 
greenhouse gas emissions, improve the environment. If we do not do so at 
some point in the not-too-distant future, our children will be living in 
an economy that is much reduced, because we didn't do right by the 
environment. And we should never forget that.
    Let me finally say that one of the things that I have found most 
frustrating in trying to create a bipartisan consensus on the 
environment is that I keep finding in all these bills that are sent to 
me legislative gimmicks called riders, which have nothing to do with the 
bills that pass, where the little rider is designed to weaken some 
environmental protection the United States has. Lawmakers have attached 
language to unrelated bills to cripple wildlife protection and cut 
through an Alaskan wildlife refuge with a $30-million road. These back-
door assaults must also stop. We shouldn't squander our bounty for 
short-term gain.
    Now, the people of California know this. From Monterey Bay to Lake 
Tahoe, people who haven't always seen eye to eye on any political issue 
are working together to preserve their water and land. We are rebuilding 
at the grassroots level a consensus for preserving our environment, 
advancing the public health as we grow our economy.
    That message needs to get back to Washington, because every American 
has to come to grips with this fundamental challenge. We can never 
create the 21st century America we want for our children until we do not 
think of economic growth as divorced from the preservation of the 
environment and the public health. They must be seen as absolutely part 
of one indivisible effort to create the good life for the American 
people. If we do that and if we fulfill our responsibilities, then I'm 
convinced that for the children here in this audience, America's best 
days are still ahead.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:22 a.m. outside the plant. In his 
remarks, he referred to community activist Lorraine Ross; Mayor Edward 
Simon of San Bruno; Ann Moller Caen, president, San Francisco Public 
Utilities Commission, and her late husband, Herb Caen; gubernatorial 
candidate Lt. Gov. Gray Davis; and Paul Mazza, superintendent, East Bay 
Water Treatment Facilities.