Department of Justice Seal

Talking Points Associate Attorney General

Earth Day, April 26, 2000

Today, as we observe the 30th anniversary of Earth Day we can say that our efforts have been a success. America is now enjoying both the longest economic expansion in history and the cleanest environment in a generation. Since 1992, the American economy has created nearly 21 million new jobs and grown at the fastest rate in more than 30 years. We now have the lowest unemployment rates in 30 years; the lowest poverty rates in 20 years; the lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment rates on record, and the first back-to-back budget surpluses in 42 years.

Meanwhile, as you heard the Attorney General describe, more American families are breathing clean air and drinking clean water, and we have preserved and restored millions of acres of precious lands across our Nation. And, time and again, we have stood firm against efforts to weaken our environmental laws. One of the most compelling and recurring stories about your work, that has always struck me, is how your dedication has improved all of our lives, and especially the most vulnerable among us, our children.

Children, as most of you know, are particularly susceptible to hazards in our environment. This is both because of their inquisitive play habits, such as putting foreign objects in their mouths, and also because of their bodies' sensitivity during early development. So when we talk about environmental hazards, such as contaminated drinking water, improper pesticide use, lead paint in our homes, and dirty air, it is our children who are oftentimes at greatest risk.

Asthma and lead poisoning remain two of the greatest health problems confronting our children. Asthma is the most chronic disorder among America's children today, affecting nearly 5 million children, and disproportionately affecting poor and minority children. It is also one of the leading cause of school absenteeism, accounting for over 10 million missed school days per year. Reducing exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution improves a child's quality of life, unrestricted from asthma attacks. The Environment Division has been, and remains, vigilant to achieve the promise of the Clean Air Act - that all Americans, regardless of race, income, or location, can breathe clean and healthy air.

Lead poisoning is another environmental hazard that denies almost a million children their full potential to be productive adults. Lead poisoning that has been correlated to later behavior problems, including attention deficit disorder and juvenile delinquency. While we have made great strides in our struggle against lead poisoning, we still have millions of homes and many hazardous waste sites that contain lead and threaten our children. We must renew our commitment to end this entirely-preventable disease. I urge all of you to stop by the table staffed by the District of Columbia Lead Poisoning Prevention Program table and pick up good information about simple steps to protect your children from lead poisoning.

The Department of Justice is in many ways on the forefront of efforts to protect our communities, and our at most risk resource - our children. Enforcing and defending our Nation's environment laws protects the air we breathe, makes our homes safe from lead paint hazards, and eliminates toxic waste sites in our neighborhoods. Your work protecting wetlands and preserving open space provides a place for all of us, including our children, to play, to enjoy nature, and to retreat from the hectic pace of today's society.

So, despite the remaining challenges, today, on the 30th anniversary of Earth Day, the Environment Division can look back with pride on what you have accomplished on the behalf of the American people. The strength of the laws you enforce demonstrate that the American people are fully and firmly committed to environmental progress, demanding strong protections and wise gains. Moreover, they have consistently made it clear that a healthy environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. America is indeed well prepared of the challenges that lie ahead. In many ways we are on the right track, and so today we can confidently predict another 30 years of substantial progress.