October 29, 2004 - From the October, 2004 issue

CAL EPA Secretary Tamminen Affirms Good Environmental Policy Is Good Business Policy

Republicans are criticized for being "anti-environment". Yet some adhere to the notion that good environmental policy does equal good business. This month, MIR is pleased to print excerpts of a speech by such a person, Terry Tamminen, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CALEPA), addressed to a meeting of the L.A.Chamber of Commerce. In this speech, Tamminen offers insight as to how the Schwarzenegger administration is indeed "pro-environment".


Terry Tamminen

I am glad to be here before the L.A Chamber, addressing you not only as a voice for our current Administration, but as a Southern Californian. It's hard to believe, but one year ago today, Governor Schwarzenegger was elected to office. The transition has not been easy, sure, but we have been up to the task. And part of my task – in fact our task at CALEPA – is to talk to you tonight about how, in this day and age in California, a Republican Gubernatorial administration will work hard with you, the Chamber, and all Californians, to preserve both our precious environment, and our vital regional economies. Put simply, Governor Schwarzenegger believes that good environmental policy is good economic policy.

So what's happened in this first year since the Governor's election? It's been an incredible roller-coaster ride, and I've said this before, but Mark Twain once said "a person who holds a cat by the tail learns things he can learn in no other way." And that is the Schwarzenegger administration. But tonight I just want to share a few thoughts with you about what we can do together. Because I think that this is the most progressive, thoughtful, and arguably the one Chamber that has the biggest challenges in front of it throughout the State.

But let me frame my remarks to you tonight in the form of a question: for what will we remember this day? Even for the Governor, it was hard to remember what he did a year ago yesterday, let alone two or three weeks ago yesterday. But some days stand out in our memories for good or ill because they're days when our lives our changed; and the question is, will this be one of them? Is this one of those days where our lives were changed-or when we chose to change them? And that's what I want to talk to you about tonight, about a way that I think CAL EPA and this Administration working with your Chamber can make this one of those days to remember.

Let me just share briefly with you a couple of those days from my own life that shaped me to be an environmental advocate and to end up at CAL EPA. The first of those days I might share with you is when I was twelve and went scuba diving right here in Santa Monica bay. I went out there, dove beneath the waves for the first time and was introduced to this incredible world of towering kelp plants and other-worldly marine life that was just absolutely astonishing. But the day that really changed my life was ten years later, after living in Australia and Europe and coming back to California to go to Cal State Northridge. I was back beneath the waves in that same favorite dive spot. I strapped on the gear again and dove underwater, and this time I found nothing. An absolute wasteland. Nothing but rock covered in polluted sediment. And I said to myself, "how could this happen?"

The second of these days was the day my father died. My father was a Marine who served at some of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific of World War II. Yet he died of emphysema after ten years of dragging an oxygen tank behind him. And yes, he was a smoker, but he also was impacted by living in the smoggiest city in America. Not Los Angeles. Not Houston, Texas. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Especially in the summer, Milwaukee is the smoggiest city in the United States. The pollution from the rust belt, from Gary, Indiana and the steel mills, all moves up and parks over the southern end of Lake Michigan and it makes it the smoggiest place in America. And when my father died and I realized it was from both smoking and from this air pollution I asked myself, "how could this happen?"

The third of these days I want to share with you was a much happier one. It was meeting Vernon Masayevsa, the chair of the Hopi people in Arizona at the time, and he taught me all about the Hopi and how they have managed to live for centuries in one of the most hostile environments on the planet. And though are so many ways in which they learn and teach and practice sustainability, let me just give you two that are examples that perhaps best tell you how it is that they've survived. One is when they sit down to eat they say, "thank you, we have eaten." And they don't just mean the "we" in this room, they mean all of the living things that had to eat. They want to thank the cook, of course, who had to eat, that the food might be on the table. They want to thank the farmer. They want to thank the ancestors, for we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for our ancestors. They also want to thank the natural forces, let's face it, the food had to eat, it had to be nourished by the sun, by the minerals, by the rain, by the land itself. They never want to forget that, because if you take away any one of those lynch-pins, all of it fails, and the food would not be on our table tonight. So they say, "thank you, we have eaten," in order to remember that. The other thing you need to know about the Hopi is that they have no word for "wilderness." To them there's no wilderness, there's no "away" that's just where they raise their families, where they get their food, where they live, and gain their sustenance. So the Hopi have managed to survive, archaeologists tell us, on the very same three mesas in the very same dwellings for more than ten thousand years. Absolutely remarkable.

But the fourth of these days I want to share with you, was meeting another visionary by the name of Joanne Van Tilberg, the archaeologist from UCLA who figured out what happened to the population on Easter Island. Now, Easter Island is that speck of desert in the Pacific off the coast of Chile that has those tall statues made out of volcanic rock-weighing as much as a hundred tons and standing as much as eighty feet tall. And nobody could figure out how an unmechanized society could carve these things, let alone move them as much as six miles across the island from the quarries to where many of them were erected. And in fact, when the Europeans first came to Easter Island, they found this barren island, and they found a few hundred residents living in poverty, and they couldn't figure out how anyone could possibly have made these things. Well, Joanne figured out that in fact the island was not a desert island; that it was once a lush subtropical paradise. It was home to thousands of plant and animal species including eighty foot tall Chilean wine palms that grow to six feet in diameter and make terrific dugout canoes for a seafaring population to go out and hunt and fish. But what she figured out was that, in a few generations of conspicuous consumption, twenty thousand islanders who had had a robust, sophisticated civilization managed to literally eat themselves out of existence. They wiped themselves off the entire island; and there was nowhere else they could go. Once all natural resources were gone, they couldn't even make canoes to go out and hunt, or to go to another island. And so, as I said, by the time the Europeans got there, they found a few hundred humans living in caves, and relying on cannibalism and eating rats. And when she told me this story and I compared it to what I had learned from Vernon about the Hopi I said to myself, "how could this happen?"

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The final of these days I want to share with you, and then I'll move on, was indeed about a year ago, was right after the election-in fact it was today, one year ago today. I walked into Arnold's office and I said, "well Arnold, congratulations. You won, I don't know if you know what you've bitten off here, but at least you have a terrific environmental action plan to execute." And he looked at me and he said, "no I don't. You do." And that was the first time I realized he actually wanted me to go to Sacramento to help him be part of the solution, and not just a finger-pointer that's part of the problem. That cheered some, and scared others. The employees of CAL EPA-and this is a true story-they decided to name, or rename, the plaza in front of the CAL EPA building "Tamminen Square." They weren't sure if I was friend or foe. But what they didn't know (and they do now) is that they had a Governor who understands that a long-term sustainable economy depends upon a long-term sustainable environment. That that's where we draw our natural resources, that's what drives our economy, in this state and everywhere else, and that in fact "business or the environment" is not a choice. That in fact we must have a healthy environment and a healthy economy working together. So as we came into office, we said to ourselves, "well, we've been given a lot here in California." And we knew that coming in on this unique wave of political turmoil, much would be expected of us. So in terms of the environment, we asked "where do we stand today, as we come into office?" So let me share with you three or four examples of what we find even as we still stand here today.

Let's start with coastal resources. You could measure our coastal resources in a lot of ways, but let's try wetlands. Ninety-five percent of the wetlands we once had in California have been drained or paved. And you might say, "well, maybe we're better of having those things drained." Well we now know that the wetland complexes along our coast were vital to water quality, and vital to nurseries, and many other commercial species of fish that we rely on. And one of the most obvious is salmon. Salmon is a really good indicator species because it depends on a healthy ecosystem in the watershed. They start their life in the watersheds and the rivers of California, and they move through those wetland complexes where they grow to maturity before going out into the ocean. They move out in the oceans and grow to size, and then come back to spawn again in the watersheds. Salmon kind of tell you the health of watersheds, coastal resources and your coastal ocean areas. Before WWII, salmon was so plentiful in California that it was called the "poor man's steak"-it sold for ten cents a pound. It employed tens of thousands of Californians in sustainable, high-paying jobs. It was a billion-dollar industry, even in World War II dollars. Today, it's less than five percent of that value to the economy. And it's because we didn't take care of those watersheds, we didn't take care of those wetlands, we didn't take care of our coastal waters.

Let's talk about water itself. We know how much water capacity we have lost in this state permanently. We have over-drafted most of our aquifers in this state; meaning we've taken out so much more than we've recharged, or allowed to percolate back into the ground, that in the Central Valley land has literally subsided as much as seventy feet. That's like putting your foot on a sponge, squeezing out the water, and never taking your foot off. We will never regain that lost water, and yet we stand here talking about spending billions of dollars to build more dams and reservoirs, which we probably have to do, partly because we have so ill-managed our ground water.

Let's talk about land. We have identified over a hundred thousand brownfield sites in California: polluted sites, many of which are sitting behind chain-link fences, a hazard to communities, not helping the environment nor the economy. If we're honest with ourselves, we probably have three times that many. The Governor signed into law a bill that I think will begin to accelerate the development of brownfield sites while protecting the environment-but we must do more. The fact is, every one of those sites is a drug on the local community. It's hurting the economy as well as the environment.

And finally let's talk about air. Unlike a brownfield or a wetland, air is something we all share in common. And researchers tell us that ninety-nine percent of the air we breath is made up of nitrogen and oxygen. So what do we do with this arguably sacred resource? One hundred percent of the air we breathe in this state is contaminated with man-made chemicals and toxins, that bear these frightening acronyms like BTEX and PAH. A hundred thousand people died in this country from completely preventable air pollution. Six million more went to the hospital with asthma and other respiratory diseases from completely preventable air pollution, and most of those were our elders and our children, the most vulnerable amongst us. And it's incumbent upon us, upon the people in this room, and in this Administration, to act and preserve our environment, our natural resources, so that we don't keep spending money cleaning up the water, cleaning up the air, restoring brownfield sites, and trying to figure out what we're gonna do to put salmon fishers back to work. And we can do it. But we've got to be smart about it. Unless we really get this tiger by the tail and are willing to make some very unpopular political decisions at the state level, or have a miraculous economic boom, we're heading for trouble. And we've got to find ways to work together.

I hope I have given you a taste of what CALEPA and Governor Schwarzenegger intend to do to preserve the environment in California. Improving the health of our environment is not a bipartisan issue. It is a task that, like I said, requires us to rise to the occasion and work together as Californians. That moment has arrived, and with your help, we can again make today a day to remember.

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