TESTIMONY OF J. CHARLES FOX
March 18, 1998
J. CHARLES FOX
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR WATER
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE
March 18, 1998
Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Chuck Fox, Assistant Administrator for Water at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I am very pleased to provide comment about the idea of open space and how it relates to environmental protection, water quality, and the Administration's Livability Agenda.
The Administration has been working to assemble the building blocks of a new approach to livable communities over the past several years. Let me mention two of these initiatives.
EPA and other Federal agencies are providing resources and tools to state and local governments to cleanup and redevelop brownfields -- abandoned, potentially contaminated properties. EPA's effort has provided $65 million in grants to 250 communities, leveraged more than $1 billion in redevelopment investment, and created more than 2,000 jobs nationwide. Through the Brownfields National Partnership, more than 20 Federal agencies have collaborated to provide financial and technical support for local brownfields efforts.
Highlights of other Federal partners providing brownfields support include: the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and Brownfields Economic Development Initiative (BEDI) grants; the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration with planning and economic development grants; and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) providing expertise in environmental assessment and cleanup projects.
To help communities restore and revitalize rivers and riverfronts, the Administration established the American Heritage Rivers initiative. Through this initiative, 14 rivers have been designated to receive a "river navigator" whose job will be to help the community realize its vision by coordinating existing federal programs. . The Administration will be assisting local residents, communities, and other stakeholders to restore the health of their river and riverfront, promote economic revitalization, and preserve the cultural and historic heritage of the river.
THE LIVABILITY AGENDA
The Administration's Livability Agenda will provide communities with new tools and resources to: preserve green spaces for clean water and air and enhanced quality of life; ease traffic congestion; restore a sense of community by fostering citizen and private sector involvement in planning; promote collaboration to develop regional growth strategies; and enhance economic competitiveness.
To ensure that communities can grow according to their own values, the Administration's Agenda observes these key principles:
-- Communities know best. Land use decisions are - and will continue to be - made by local entities.
-- The federal government should inform, not dictate, patterns of future growth. Government can supply information, tools and resources to empower citizens and communities by helping them envision different strategies. Government can also provide incentives for communities to work together to address challenges of growth and development.
Our Livability Agenda also includes: transportation enhancements; regional smart growth partnerships; schools as community centers; community-federal information partnerships; and regional crime-data sharing. It focuses broadly on a range of issues to improve the quality of life in a community and touches on important parts of our daily lives - the safety of our homes and streets, our commute to work, the schools where our children learn to read, and the parks where we relax.
BETTER AMERICA BONDS
A critical element of the Livability Agenda is the Better America Bonds program. The Better America Bonds Program will provide communities with an additional tool to preserve their open spaces, protect their water, revitalize their blighted urban areas, and improve their quality of life, in a manner that works best for them.
Better America Bonds can be used in three ways: First, Better America Bonds will further brownfields cleanup and reuse by providing a new source of flexible funding for communities' brownfields projects. The U.S. Conference of Mayors pointed to a lack of capital for local governments as the leading barrier to the clean-up and re-use of brownfields. Better America Bonds will supplement existing brownfields funding with bond proceeds, thus increasing the funds available for brownfields assessment and redevelopment. This spares green space by reusing already developed properties and restores green space by cleaning up contaminated properties at a time when we are losing over 700 acres per fay of open space and farmland to development.
Second, State, Tribal and local governments, working alone or in partnership with land trusts and other nonprofit organizations, can create or restore urban parks, preserve suburban green spaces, and protect threatened farmland and wetlands by acquiring title or purchasing conservation easements using these new bonds.
Finally, Rivers, lakes, coastal waters, and wetlands can be restored or protected, streamside zones can be repaired and land can be acquired to reduce polluted runoff or protect drinking water sources.
Land conservation for environmental protection is not a new concept. There are several examples of existing State and local initiatives that could be assisted by Better America Bonds.
In 1990, Florida approved the Preservation 2000 program after a commission concluded that the most effective way to accomplish environmental protection is to enhance state land acquisition programs. Since then, $2.4 billion in bonds have been approved and more than 1 million acres of land have been acquired. These actions have helped improve water quality and foster smarter growth.
In North Carolina, the General Assembly recognized that restoring and protecting water resources depended upon their ability to restore riparian buffers, purchase conservation easements, restore degraded lands, and create a system of greenways. The Charlotte Observer stated that the Charlotte region is at the forefront of a national trend, "linking conservation with pragmatism . . . paying to protect water sources now rather than try to filter out pollutants later."
The City of Auburn, Maine, is maintaining drinking water quality standards, and avoiding the need for structural filtration, by purchasing land, conservation easements, and life estate interests from landowners around Lake Auburn. These land conservation expenditures are a bargain compared to the alternative of building a filtration plant. In addition, land protection can help water suppliers avoid the high costs of dealing with contaminated groundwater supplies. In fact, in some cases, it costs up to 30 to 40 times more to clean contaminated groundwater than it does to prevent contamination in the first place.
The Administration's proposed Better America Bonds will enable state, tribal and local governments to issue $9.5 billion in bonds over five years through approximately $700 million in federal tax credits. Communities will have access to low cost financing and investors who buy these fifteen year bonds will receive tax credits in lieu of interest.
The Administration is working hard to develop new ideas and approaches that respond to public concern that we find creative ways to help communities grow according to their own values, maintain their quality of life, and enhance economic competitiveness. This is a challenging task, as difficult as the development of the core pollution control laws of the early seventies. The Senate Environment Committee led the way in improving our environment and enhancing the quality of life of many communities and we look forward to working with the Committee to define common sense approaches to meeting the new challenges that we face today.