Good morning. This holiday weekend, when millions of Americans are taking to beaches and lakes and trails, I want to talk to you about new ways we can work together to protect the natural treasures we all share.
Today I'm speaking to you from the banks of the St. Mary's River in northern Florida, near the Georgia border, in one of the most impressive nature preserves Hillary and I have ever seen. Our visit here reminds us once again what a gift it is to spend time outdoors, to walk among tall trees, to see wild animals and rare birds, to watch the Sun set and the stars come out over a beautiful river. It also makes us appreciate the generations of Americans who fought to preserve the parklands and the beaches we all enjoy today.
For the past 6 years, Vice President Gore and I have worked hard to advance the ethic of environmental stewardship. We've protected more than a million acres in the spectacular red rock canyonlands of Utah, in priceless stands of ancient redwoods in California. We've reduced toxic air pollution from chemical plants by 90 percent and cleaned up more toxic waste sites than were cleaned up in the previous 12 years. We saved Yellowstone Park from the threat of nearby gold mining, and we've taken major steps to protect our water resources, from the precious Florida Everglades to the tap water our children drink.
Today I'm proud to announce three new executive actions to improve the quality of our water and the health of our families. First, I'm directing the National Park Service and other agencies to expand public health protections on the thousands of miles of stunning beaches managed by the Federal Government, including Cape Cod, Cape Hatteras, and California's Point Reyes. And I challenge the States to improve their water quality standards. Second, I'm directing the EPA to develop stronger measures to prevent sewage spills, the major cause of beach closures. Third, I'm directing all Federal agencies to adopt a comprehensive strategy to better safeguard rivers and other bodies of water on Federal lands.
Of course, there are other important environmental and public health challenges we must address. The balanced budget I submitted to Congress earlier this year contains historic investments to improve the quality of life, save more land, and deal with the challenge of climate change by helping communities protect farmlands, parklands, and other green spaces, rewarding consumers who buy cars and houses that reduce greenhouse gas pollution, controlling polluted runoff to lakes and streams, and improving the quality of air we breathe.
Unfortunately, even as we work to raise the level of environmental stewardship for the 21st century, some in Congress are intent on rolling back many of the gains we've already make in this century. With little fanfare, the leadership in the House and the Senate just released spending guidelines that would impose drastic cuts in environmental protection and public health. These cuts could stall toxic waste cleanups and undermine our efforts to ensure safe drinking water, to improve air quality, and to combat the threat of global warming. They could even force us to shut down some of our national parks.
What's more, we've already seen troubling signs that Congress again will try to gut environmental protections by tacking provisions called riders on to their budget bills. I urge Congress to end these sneak attacks on our environment once and for all.
We often speak of building a country where our children have an opportunity to do even better than we've done. In part, of course, we refer to the economy, the opportunities we create for our children to secure a good education, a good job, and raise a family in a safe neighborhood with good schools, but we also refer to our natural world. We know our children cannot do better tomorrow if we're willing to squander precious environmental resources today.
More than ever, the American people recognize the inherent value of pristine peaks, unspoiled beaches, clear and safe water. They believe in the value of environmental stewardship. I think all of us believe in the value of that stewardship.
Now is the time, on the edge of a new century, for us to unite as Americans and chart that course of stewardship. We must work together to leave our land, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "an even better land for our descendants than it is for us."
Thanks for listening.