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Public Statements

McCain Speech on the Environmnet

Location: Bethlehem, NH

Thank you.

One of the great joys I have known campaigning in New Hampshire is the profound beauty of this lovely state's diverse landscapes. And none are more stirring than your White Mountains, a place of surpassing beauty.

I am a candidate for President because I know that unless we restore the people's sovereignty over government, renew their pride in public service, reform our public institutions and reinvigorate our sense of national purpose, we risk losing the good faith necessary to protect all that is good in this blessed country, including the quality of our natural environment.

I want to fight for an America of unprecedented growth and unlimited economic opportunity for our children. We are the stewards of their freedom and progress. But today, I would like to talk to you about our stewardship responsibilities of another kind, on an issue central to the quality of life to which we aspire for our families and future generations-the environment.

Conservationist Conservative

I am a proud conservative. And, my friends, what could be more conservative than conserving for ourselves and our posterity clean air, safe water and the gifts of unspoiled creation? These are not benefits doled out by government to favored constituencies. Protecting our natural heritage along with our political heritage is at the core my conservative philosophy.

Theodore Roosevelt, first among America's great conservationists, captured it best:

"To waste, to destroy our natural resources...will result in undermining in the days of our children, the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed."

Roosevelt reminded us that we are Americans before we are Democrats or Republicans. And as we all inherited a rich and extraordinarily beautiful country, so must we bequeath the same to those who will share our good fortune tomorrow.

While environmental politics should be about rendering rational and effective public policy from diverse and strongly held views; today, it is much more the sport of political one-upsmanship with all its inflammatory rhetoric, insulting sound bites, screaming headlines and phony posturing.

The great environmental progress of our past was built on the foundation of bi-partisanship. Our progress on the vital environmental challenges of today demand a new unity, a renewed bi-partisanship.

As President, my priority will not be scoring partisan points, it will be unifying Americans in pursuit of our common purpose; working for policies that benefit the American people. My friends, it's time to agree to a simple premise that seems lost in our political life today: what's good for America is good for our party.

False Choices; Failed Opportunities

Special interests would have us believe that we must choose between a healthy environment or a strong economy. We know better. We know that our economic and environmental futures are both indispensable elements of the American dream. Poverty is a poor caretaker, and wastelands impoverish the richest man's quality of life. Just ask the people of Eastern Europe who emerged from the Cold War, their resources decimated and poisoned by 45 years of communist rule.

The false choices and the "we versus they" mentality that pollutes our political discourse, divides our nation along many battle lines, particularly, on environmental questions. Just as politicians or industry squander credibility when we indifferently brush aside genuine environmental threats, some environmentalists risk becoming irrelevant when they eagerly denounce even the most necessary reforms of failed policies as evil conspiracies to "gut" environmental law.

Americans have become too accustomed to petty politics and less willing to rally to important public causes.

Trust is a fragile commodity in politics that is easily squandered and difficult to restore. And, when it is lost, so are our chances to accomplish the necessary and sensible reforms we profess to be the object of our labors.

Conflict Resolution

Contentious environmental disputes challenge us at every turn. But let's not let extremists on both sides of the debate define our differences, and let's work harder to find solutions on the fruitful plain of a common understanding of our responsibilities.

I was pleased to help found the United States Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, so that people of good faith can negotiate answers to the benefit of both people and the environment; rather than litigate questions to the enrichment of only the lawyers.

The Institute was inspired by Morris Udall, my dear friend and a tireless advocate for the environment. Though Mo and I did not always agree, he set a standard for principle and fairness, and together we were able to achieve measures protecting Arizona's environment for generations to come. In the spirit of Mo Udall, I hope the institute and programs like it will be part of a new model of cooperation in solving the environmental challenges of the 21st Century.

National Parks

One of the most serious challenges before us is protecting the integrity of America's great treasures—our National Parks.

From the Grand Canyon in my home state of Arizona to the Everglades of South Florida, from Alaska's Denali, to the shorelines of Acadia on the coast of Maine, the national park system represents the best attributes of American life. And its' preservation deserves our best efforts.

But our political leaders today are failing to live up to Theodore Roosevelt's vision. Work vital to protecting our natural and cultural treasures is too long delayed for lack of resources—an estimated five billion dollars in unmet needs. And the quality of our children's experiences in our national parks is increasingly less than it was when we were children. My friends, that's unacceptable.

It's long past time to make the tough budget decisions to care for our parks. Guided by a comprehensive strategic plan that sets goals, priorities and timelines for achievement, I will make it my mission—America's mission-to eliminate vital unmet needs in our national parks within eight years.

Three years ago, the United States was awarded $800 million dollars in disputed oil revenues from Alaska. These resources derived from the land should be reinvested for the purpose of conserving it. I propose we dedicate this money to implement a visionary strategic plan to revitalize our parks.

But we know that alone won't solve the problem and that we can't rely exclusively on the limited resources of the federal treasury. We must summon to the aid of our natural treasures, our most powerful problem solver—public patriotism expressed through private initiative.

Park Bonding

Every year Americans invest billions of dollars to finance new roads, power plants and office buildings through development bonds. Let's provide that same opportunity to invest in the protection and improvement of our parks as well.

Federal park improvement bonds, issued by an approved non-profit concern, could be secured by a small portion of park entrance fees. The substantial sums generated would enable us to begin reversing the deterioration of our parks, before their repair grows even more costly. I believe the American people are eager to invest in their natural heritage.

The National Parks Conservation Association, which is at work preparing a business plan to prioritize park needs, has proposed the use of bonds, and other initiatives to close the funding gap. It's time that we test and implement such creative approaches.

World Class Park Experience

Only by setting clear objectives and securing the resources to achieve them can we hope to fulfill the timeless mission of our National Park System: to preserve our nation's most spectacular natural features, unimpaired for future generations, and to provide for the enjoyment of these areas by the American people.

But, as park visitation grows, so do the difficulties of meeting this mission, and assuring that the "quality" of visitor experience is and always will be as sublime as when the first lucky man or woman first glimpsed the White Mountains.

At the Grand Canyon, we've taken action to reduce air pollution; preserve natural quiet; and protect the Colorado River from damage caused by dam operations. We took these actions, not because they were easy or without cost, but because they were the right thing to do.

If we are to assure that our parks remain unspoiled, we must be prepared to defend their integrity from threats whether they emanate from within or outside park boundaries. And we must reconcile the needs of visitors with our conservation responsibilities.

For example, we need to manage the rapid growth in overflights of parkland by commercial airtours. As President, I will see to it that every park where overflights occur has a plan that ensures the safety of visitors in the air and on the ground, and that preserves the natural quiet that people expect and deserve in our parks.

Improved planning, better funding, vigorous resource protection, these are the tasks that confront us as we sustain the most extraordinary places in our vast and beautiful country.

Federal Lands

But, our stewardship responsibilities don't end in our parks. The White Mountain National Forest is a prime example. Like forest communities in my home state of Arizona, you rely on the land to sustain and grace the quality of your lives.

The demands on our federal public lands are numerous and diverse. Reconciling their myriad uses whether they be recreation, conservation or resource development is a daunting, and often contentious challenge.

As President, I will work for balanced, environmentally responsible, and sustainable multiple-use of our public lands. And I will never lose sight of the fundamental principle that federal land management decisions affecting local communities must be made in cooperation with the Americans who call those communities home.

The idea that Washington knows best, and that local residents cannot be trusted to do what's right in their own back yard is the epitome of federal arrogance. The existence of this very forest repudiates that offensive notion.

White Mountain National Forest exists not thanks to "enlightened" federal fiat or the presumed superior foresight of the political class in Washington. This forest was set-aside nearly a century ago thanks to the vision and energy of local residents who demanded it. Washington would do well to keep your example in mind.

Twice during his administration, President Clinton has invoked executive authority to unilaterally determine the future of millions of acres of federal land across the country, including parcels not far from here. He is now considering whether to use that authority again in my home state of Arizona.

I won't debate whether his intentions are political or environmental. But any President must understand that even good intentions are not enough when managing shared resources.

If land is governed by decree absent genuine public participation, we will only widen the chasm of distrust between the people and the government. That distrust renders it exceedingly more difficult to solve the environmental conflicts that will always attend the management of public assets in a free society.

As President, I would repeal the executive order President Clinton issued, and submit the question of increased protection to the public scrutiny and comment that should instruct every significant land management decision.

I would add the responsibility to solicit and address state and local concerns applies to the administration's decision to extend oil leases off the west coast. The state of California, which opposes the extension, was forced to sue in order to receive the consideration the people deserve.

If special land designations are deemed necessary to advance a public good, then it is incumbent upon the President to solicit the views and win by merit the support of those in whose interests he purports to act. That is a basic tenet of our land management laws. As President, as I pledge to be a responsible steward, so do I pledge to be respectful of public concerns.


One of the accomplishments I am most proud of in my 17 year career in Congress is helping place over three and one-half million acres of Arizona's most pristine lands into the National Wilderness Preservation System. Arizona is the only state in America to have enacted two major wilderness bills. We earned that distinction by vigorous consensus building. And in so doing we secured for the benefit of future generations an enduring legacy of unspoiled wildlands.

The nation's Wilderness Act is now 35 years old, yet many of our most pristine public lands remain outside the system.

As President I will ask leaders, residents and affected stakeholders of every state containing federal lands, to turn their attention to the difficult decisions about what areas should remain forever wild. Ample and qualified areas should be included in the wilderness system and those not appropriate for the designation should be made available for responsible multiple-use. We must get on with the job of protecting our wilderness.

Without ample wilderness I fear that we will lose a precious part of our heritage, the last unspoiled vestiges of the American frontier and untrammeled habitat for American wildlife.

I know that habitat protection and accessible public lands is especially important to many hunters and sportsmen across the country who have a proud tradition of conservation. It's time that we honor their role and encourage their further help in the conservation movement, rather than threaten to deprive them of their Constitutional rights and drive them from the land.

The right to responsibly own a firearm in this country, whether it be for recreational purposes such as hunting, or for self-protection, is a fundamental liberty wisely granted by the Founding Fathers. We have a duty to defend it, and I will.

Green Space

While the families of this beautiful community enjoy the benefits of vast green space, many American families do not. Many cities and towns across the country are grappling with the difficult issues of growth and struggling to secure for their residents a better quality of life by preserving treasured natural and historic areas before they are consumed by development. New Hampshire has wisely inaugurated a Heritage Commission for this very purpose.

While land-use and zoning are issues of local control that must never, I repeat, never, be federalized; and private property rights must always be respected, the federal government can and should be a responsible partner in helping communities meet their conservation goals.

Over three decades ago, Congress established a Land and Water Conservation Fund. The account was created to fund the acquisition of environmentally significant lands and to aid states in financing their conservation and recreation initiatives. As so frequently happens in the nation's capitol, federal priorities took precedence over the interests of local communities, and from 1995 until just this year not one penny was distributed to the states for their needs.

That's wrong. As President, my budgets will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and assure that states receive at least 50% of the proceeds to meet their environmental protection goals.

New Approaches

As populations grow larger, and the edges of urbanization expand, our conservation challenges grow more acute. It's time we are wiser and more proactive, not only in preserving greenspace, but by using the open spaces we have more productively.

It's time for government, non-profit and private sector organizations to work in concert with landowners willing to create and improve wildlife habitat and wetlands on private property, and to assure that our laws vigorously encourage these activities not stifle them with unnecessary regulation.


My friends, we are in the midst of a rapidly expanding technological revolution that is changing the way we live, work and play. Just as technology is revolutionizing the economy, it can revolutionize environmental protection as well. America must continue its leadership in developing the anti-pollution technologies on which the world will depend to make the air clean, our water safe and our land beautiful.

As President, I will fight to make permanent the research and development tax credit and focus federal research activities on the most promising environmental technologies.

I was proud to establish a national award to recognize and reward the premier achievement every year in the field of environmental technology. The award will be made for the first time next year. While market incentives for such advances are handsome, I would use the office of the presidency as a bully pulpit to encourage and stress their importance as a national priority.

Anti-Pollution Statutes

But advanced technology and new methods of removing pollution from the air and water can not be used to maximum effect when federal law does not encourage their use, or worse, discourages it.

Most of the nation's environmental laws are over 30 years old. It's time to comprehensively review them to assure they are relevant to today's needs and capabilities. That's not code for weakening our standards, it's a call for strengthening our methods for addressing the threats to human health and the environment, and for seeking ways to make them less costly.

We must make regulations more flexible, emphasizing measurable results rather than means favored by bureaucrats. Flexibility will foster innovation.

Our nation's clean air and water laws have improved the environment dramatically. But as far as we have come, we have serious environmental problems left to tackle. In doing so, we must resist the temptation to throw money at every problem. Rather we should build on what works, free enterprise and open markets.

Rather than pork barrel programs, let's establish the necessary standards to achieve responsible goals, and then allow the private sector can harness the power of free markets to assure they are achieved as effectively and cost-efficiently as possible.

As President I will give to the EPA administrator one simple battle plan: in concert with state, tribal and local officials, and the public, vigorously but flexibly enforce our vital environmental protection laws and the rules that contribute directly to the protection of human health and the environment, and retool or retire outdated regulations that serve no useful purpose toward those ends.

As President, I will order a complete top to bottom review with these criteria in mind. And I will make it a priority to ensure that federal agencies abide by the laws that the government imposes on everyone else. Several years ago, mercury was discovered leaching into the ground water from, of all places, a lab operated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal government is the biggest polluter in the land. That's not right and it must stop.

Environmental Report Card

It's time that that we provide a better measurement of our progress in meeting defined goals and the environmental challenges we face.

As President, I will establish an Environmental Report Card that will truthfully inform Americans about the quality of their air, land and water.

We continuously monitor and measure the economy, and widely share that data with the public. We should do so with the environment as well.

American Leadership

At the end of the Cold War America found itself the lone superpower, with the privileges and responsibilities such a position confers. We are the greatest force for good on earth. Our values are advancing across the globe, as other countries look to us for leadership.

America must lead on all fronts, including environmental issues that affect shared resources, whether its overfishing of international waters or the threat of a changing global climate. That doesn't mean America plays the patsy. It means we use our leadership to insist on the international cooperation necessary to address legitimate global environmental problems.

Global climate is a scientific question, not a political one. But appropriate remedies must be crafted with American leadership, in a manner that reflects our values--free markets, sound science, cost-benefits, and common sense; and that demands the cooperation of other nations—or our response, well intentioned as it may be, will fail ourselves and the world we lead.

Concluding Remarks

America is beautiful. Clean air, safe water and sublime open space are the pride of the country. Let us take all necessary action to pass on to our children an even richer natural heritage than was bequeathed to us.

And let us remember the words of an intrepid Grand Canyon explorer and conservationist, John Wesley Powell. Before embarking on his trip to brave the uncharted rapids of the Grand Canyon, he said:

"We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown... We have an unknown distance to run; and an unknown river to explore. What falls there are...what rocks beset the channel... (and) what walls rise over the river we know not."

Those words echo forth from the past as prelude to our own journey into the future--the Great Unknown. With our values as our vessel and our principles as our lantern, we too will negotiate the distance we must run, together, with honor and success for us all, and for anyone who appreciates how good God is to let us live in this, the loveliest part of His wonderful creation.

Thank you for listening.

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