George Bush photo

Remarks at an Environmental Agreement Signing Ceremony at the Grand Canyon, Arizona

September 18, 1991

Thank you, Governor Symington. And thank all of you here for the warm welcome. And let me just salute the two members of the administration that are with me on the platform here: Our Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan and, of course, the man you just heard from, our able EPA Administrator Bill Reilly. I particularly want to thank the Members of Congress from Arizona that are with us today: Senator McCain, Senator DeConcini over here, and of course, Representative Stump and Representative Kyl, also greeting us here today. So, we have a good turnout. I'm glad you all are seated. And I wish you all were, but I will -- this isn't the shortest speech I've ever given either, so -- [laughter].

But, look, I love coming back to this general area, though this will be my first trip down inside the Canyon. This spot where I was sitting reminds me of that old political adage, "Never move backward." [Laughter] It kind of reminds me of -- looks like something that started out in Washington as a trench and went over budget. [Laughter] I love the outdoors. I hope that's clear to the American people by now, the sports and the recreation and the sheer beauty of it.

Let me tell you, I've been privileged to travel all around the world, and I don't believe that anywhere you can find a better outdoor attraction than this. Many times what you don't see is as impressive as what you do. Here, as we look over the south rim of the world's greatest natural wonder, we see Arizona skies, a kaleidoscope of beauty of the Grand Canyon, we see a place that has made even the most calloused observer gasp with awe.

We don't see smog, today. But sometimes smoke and fumes obscure this lovely view. And we're here to say today: No more. The Navajo visibility rule, the rule that we will sign today, honors Teddy Roosevelt's admonition about the Grand Canyon. Here are his words; they apply to today: "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see."

Well, the visibility rule will help ensure cleaner skies and more breathtaking vistas for visitors. It helps preserve the spectacular treasure without shutting down the electricity-generating industry and without forcing people to choose between environment and their jobs.

If people think the revolution in the Soviet Union was spectacular, they ought to come here. Who ever thought that we'd be able to get the Grand Canyon Trust, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Salt River Project, and the Arizona Public Service Company to share the spotlight. [Laughter] But it's so good that they did. It is so wonderful that they are cooperating in this forward-looking manner, partners in an historic agreement.

And so many people here deserve a hand, Bill Reilly singled out some. I want to just mention, again, Governor Symington, the representatives of the environmental community and of the utility industry as well. I think we owe a special thanks to Bill Reilly of the EPA, our Administrator.

He has tried to promote a series of cooperative ventures based on the common-sense view that you can get further by seeking people's help than suing them. And the EPA's Green Lights program encourages the voluntary use of energy efficient lighting. Green Lights promotes energy conservation, which saves electricity and cuts down on pollution.

Our voluntary program to reduce toxic emissions has enlisted more than 200 companies, who together have promised to cut toxic emissions by more than 200 million pounds a year.

And today's agreement offers further proof that Bill's own brand of shuttle diplomacy has helped eliminate environmental gridlock and produce the kind of consensus that enables us to take care of our planet and our economy.

These agreements illustrate a crucial element of our administration's vision for America's future. Before I go further, I just have to ask some of the critics out there: How's this for the vision thing? [Laughter]

Today's event celebrates the kind of civility and cooperation that our administration has tried to promote for our entire society. For too many years, Americans have divided into feuding camps, people sparring over causes, special interests battling it out against special interests, and so on. We have overlooked the fact that most Americans share a broader set of goals and beliefs, which I think we would all call the American dream. We need to revive that dream and invite people to join us in pursuing it, regardless of their party, their background, or their ideology.

Most of us want a lot of the same things. Around here, for instance, everyone wanted to preserve the Canyon and the local economy. And no one wants an environmental policy that permits the wanton destruction of our natural treasures. And nor can we afford a policy that makes the American worker an endangered species. Our policies should promote economic growth, create new jobs, and still let everyone enjoy the grandeur of the outdoors. And, believe me, it can be done. It is being done.

We can achieve our most important goals only by working together, taking advantage of our diverse skills, abilities, commitments, and passions. And if we divide up like the Hatfields and the McCoys, we don't accomplish anything worthwhile. We just destroy ourselves and those causes that we hold dear.

Ten years ago, I was Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief, then Vice President. And I called for greater use of informal negotiation techniques instead of litigation and for market-based approaches to controlling pollution. And this agreement shows that those innovations work. And so does the landmark Clean Air Act, which I signed last year, and in the process broke a logjam that had prevented progress for a dozen years.

Our administration has crafted a new, common-sense approach to environmental issues, one that honors our love of the environment and our commitment to growth. And in just the last year, we've signed bills to prevent oil spills, protect the Antarctic. We've initiated a program to plant a billion trees a year around the country. And it's going well. We've launched a massive effort to protect our public lands.

And our cooperative efforts still go further. Just this summer the EPA and key environmental groups and the petroleum industry reached an extraordinary agreement on reformulated gasoline, another giant step toward cleaner air and another step toward improving visibility right here at the Grand Canyon.

Recent world events make it clear that free markets and economic growth provide the firmest foundations for effective environmental stewardship. People tend to forget that environmental stewardship is a high-tech business, and it requires great ingenuity and insight. Science and technology give us tools for cleaning up our environment and keeping it clean. They help us identify our problems precisely and develop efficient solutions.

Our genius will open up new frontiers of clean energy: nuclear power, solar power, geothermal power, and others that exist only in the imagination of our dreamers and innovators.

It's no surprise that the poorest nations, those not blessed with prosperous, growing economies, suffer the worst, most sweeping environmental degradation. It's also natural that nations weighed down by these centrally planned economies, nations that don't enjoy free markets, would experience horrendous pollution. Take a look at Eastern Europe. Or as we get a bigger window into the Soviet Union, take a hard look at the Soviet Union, the whole former Socialist world: Clean air and water have been more scarce than consumer goods.

And in contrast, our economic expansion of the eighties was accompanied by an unprecedented improvement in air quality. Statistics, I don't want to bore you with statistics but here are some EPA figures. Sulphur dioxide levels fell 24 percent in the eighties, carbon monoxide levels dropped 25 percent, suspended particulate emissions decreased 15 percent, and we had 87 percent less lead in our air at the decade's end than we did in 1980. And I promise you: We must and we will do even better in the nineties. Today's agreement represents a good start. And it will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from the Navajo generating plant by 90 percent.

And in years to come, we will face tougher challenges, and our administration has taken steps to meet them. We've devoted significant resources to gathering crucial data about global warming, deforestation, ozone depletion, and the polar icecaps, all elements of global change. And we've begun using satellites to develop subtle, sophisticated, and useful models for studying our planet, for determining just what problems exist, and suggesting ways in which we can address them. And that is the key to sensible solutions. The space shuttle Discovery just this week, just back, placed in orbit a satellite that will measure ozone depletion. This launch got our Mission to Planet Earth off the ground, so to speak.

And the National Space Council, chaired by the Vice President, has pushed for ways to get space-based environmental research going now, not 10 years from now, so we won't have to wait for these answers.

We want to use science to help us solve our chief environmental problems. And Bill Reilly put it best in a recent newspaper piece that he wrote, "The environmental debate has long suffered from too little science. There has been plenty of emotion and politics, but scientific data have not always been featured prominently in environmental efforts and have sometimes been ignored even when available." That was his quote, and I believe he is 100 percent on target. Good science hastens our progress toward a cleaner environment, and we ought to use it to our best advantage.

But we also must put our money where our mouth is. And in this year's budget alone, I asked for nearly $1 billion for acquiring park land, protecting wetland and endangered species, and enhancing recreation. But Congress has tentatively cut this budget by more than $200 million. And today I'd like to call on the United States Congress to join me in a crusade to preserve America's outdoors. On this year, the 75th anniversary of our Park Service, politicians shouldn't fund special interest projects at the expense of such national treasures as the Grand Canyon. But after we talk about toxins and taxes, expenditures and innovations, we owe it to ourselves to stop and remember just why we're here: We care.

Dave Beal, for many years the Chief Naturalist of the Grand Canyon National Park, has offered us all some simple advice, "Go out along the Canyon rim alone to watch dark shadows climb the colored walls as the sun drops to the horizon. Think about the eons of time represented by rock formations exposed to your view and the fossil record of life through the ages. Feel the bite of the wind on your cheeks, and listen for the sound of distant rapids on the river far below. And finally, dwell for just a moment on thoughts about yourself and the role you play on this Earth." Real, philosophical, practical, wonderful words.

A wise environmental policy enriches everyone. And that's what so many of you here today have done. You've enriched the American people with your coming at it from a cooperative side of business, whether you've dedicated your life to the environment through one of these environmental organizations represented today or whether you're part of the marvelous public servants that serve the parks of this country. This park and this Nation and certainly this President owe all of you a great debt of thanks. And thank you all.

And now, I'd like to ask the representatives of the Grand Canyon Trust, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Salt River Project, and the Arizona Public Service Company to witness Bill signing this historic agreement. And isn't this a fitting, wonderful time to say may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:50 a.m. In his remarks, he referred to Governor Fife Symington of Arizona; Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan, Jr.; William K. Reilly, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Senators John McCain and Dennis DeConcini; Representatives Bob Stump and Jon L. Kyl; and Merrill D. Beal, former Chief Naturalist of the Grand Canyon National Park. Prior to his remarks, the President received a briefing on the Grand Canyon National Park, and following his remarks, he participated in a hike of the Kaibab Trail. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

George Bush, Remarks at an Environmental Agreement Signing Ceremony at the Grand Canyon, Arizona Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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