Remarks by Governor John Engler at CEI's Warren T. Brookes Fellowship Memorial Dinner on November 19,1996

Remarks by Governor John Engler at CEI's Warren T. Brookes Fellowship Memorial Dinner on November 19,1996

November 18, 1996

As you may know, Joe Olson, before he took the post of Insurance Commissioner in my administration, was Chair of the Board of Directors at the Mackinac Center -- a Michigan-based think tank that we call the CEI of the midwest.

Actually, if Warren Brookes were alive today, I am certain he would be thrilled at the degree to which idea-generating organizations like CEI, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation are leading the debate in Washington.

Certainly, he would be proud -- extremely proud -- of the scholars who have so ably filled the Warren Brookes Fellowship in Environmental Journalism. Beginning with Ron Bailey, and continuing with Michael Fumento, Michelle Malkin and James Bovard, these Warren Brookes fellows have represented the epitome of excellent scholarship, thoughtful analysis and outstanding writing.

Indeed, every time I pick up a newspaper like the Wall Street Journal and see a column by a scholar such as Jim Bovard, I think of Warren and know that he lives on -- not just through the CEI fellows but through all of us.

We share his belief in the power of free markets. We share his skepticism of bureaucratic science -- BS as Warren used to call it. And we share his lifelong commitment to the principle that people make better decisions -- for their businesses, for their families and for the world they live in -- better decisions than government ever could.

Warren Brookes was an honest broker in the marketplace of ideas and information. And while we miss his voice twice-a-week in the paper, we certainly continue to benefit every day from the power of his ideas and the diversity of his intellect.

I wish that Warren would have been alive to see Republicans take control of Congress. What I wish even more would have been to see the fun Warren would have had skewering the Clinton administration - on issues ranging from his pre-election land grab in Utah to the 225,000 pages of rules that have been added to the federal register over the past four years.

Considering the withering criticism Warren had for a previous administration, we can only imagine what he would have said about the current president. Recall this example of what Warren said about the 1990 debate over the Clean Air Act:

". . . in the current environmental debate on Capitol Hill, the collective hole in the White House and legislative heads may be larger and more permanent than the one that shows up every fall in the ozone layer over the Antarctic -- and more dangerous to our economic and ecological health."

Just imagine what Warren might have written about the Clinton-Gore mantra -- "protect Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment." Or what he would have said about a vice president who has a portrait of Rachel Carson hanging in his office.

Remember, this is the same vice president, who is his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, said that the automobile was a mortal threat to our national security. In addition, I bet that Warren would have been the first to point out that the president's so-called bridge to the 21st century is a toll bridge.

In a world where too many people get their news from Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera, we need more journalists like Warren Brooks. And fortunately, more journalists -- like John Stossel, last year's speaker at this dinner -- are rising to the challenge.

Just yesterday, for example, two op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, one by Julian Simon, the other by David Rothbard and Craig Rucker, debunked for the the umpteenth time -- the myths about a population explosion and fear of famine currently being propagated at the U.N. Food Summit in Rome.

We learn from their able scholarship that people worldwide are better fed living longer and healthier lives. More importantly, we learned that continuously improving farming methods are more than capable of feeding a growing world population.

As the father of triplet daughters, I had been concemed that I had unwittingly contributed to an impending worldwide disaster. I was especially concerned because my little Maggie does not like to share her food. Let me tell -- no one is going to take apple juice away from Maggie.

Seriously, there is no doubt that when it comes to environmental joumalism, those who follow in Warren's footsteps are outnumbered by those who don't. But we have an ally on our side that usually wins in the end -- the truth. And I have developed a method of getting back at the fearmongers, especially liberal fearmongers

I'll say to them, "Did you know that one in four liberals is at risk of developing cancer and that one in five liberals will die from it?" Of course, I don't tell them that conservatives -- indeed all Americans -- face the same risk of cancer.

I should note, however, that Warren wrote about much more than environmental issues. Often, he wrote about a subject dear to my hear -- taxes, and the economic benefits of cutting them. For example, he wrote in his column in June 1991:

"One of the genius strokes of the U.S. Constitution is that it provides the one thing most governmenta. systems lack, namely competition within government itself. The federalist system still allows states to pursue varying tax, fiscal and regulatory policies that strongly influence their economic activity. This means states automatically become 'laboratories' for economic policy. Unfortunately, liberal think tanks have all but ignored this fertile field for research -- and with good reason: There is a virtually unblemished record of strong economic performance in low-tax states, and vice-versa.

As usual, Warren was right. And Michigan's success story proves it.

Just a few months after I became Michigan's governor, I invited Warren, Tom Bray and several other friends over for dinner. At the time, Michigan's economy was mired in recession. Unemployment was approaching ten percent.

The state budget was nearly $2 billion in the red and the deficit was growing. At the same time, taxes -- especially property taxes -- were skyrocketing and welfare was becoming a way of life for more and more families. A tent city of protestor had camped out on the lawn of the State Capitol.

Twenty-one tax cuts later, Michigan is a far different place. Twenty-one tax cuts have put more than $6.5 billion back into the wallets and purses of Michigan taxpayers. I'm talking about the biggest property tax cut in history, cutting income taxes, raising exemptions, eliminating inheritance taxes and most taxes on pensions. We're even phasing out Michigan's capital gains tax.

The result has been an economic turnaround that is the envy of America. Our unemployment rate has been below five percent every month this year. In fact, we are headed for the lowest unemployment rate since 1969.

That's not the only good news. Since 1991, Michigan employers have created more than 500,000 new jobs. Over the same period, personal income in Michigan has climbed more than 25 percent -- the fastest growth rate in the nation.

Since 1994, more than 100,000 families have left the welfare rolls and achieved independence. Michigan's budget has been balanced five years in a row and our state's Rainy Day Fund is at an historic high of more than $1 billion.

And I should note that we have accomplished all of this, not inspired by Washington, but in spite of Washington . . .

. . . in spite of the biggest tax increase in history

. . . in spite of two vetoes of welfare reform

. . . and in spite of an EPA that has increasingly overstepped its bounds and usurped the lawmaking responsibilities of Congress and stepped on the state's ability to implement environmental reform.

Indeed, I am reminded of a story that NYU law professor David Schoenbrod tells in his book, Power Without Responsibility, about the battles between Franklin Roosevelt and the Supreme Court concerning the limits of federal power.

Schoenbrod -- who is also a scholar at the Manhattan and Cato Institutes -- cites a case in which the Supreme Court struck down several provisions of FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act -- legislation creating a federal agency to write and enforce its own laws dictating wages, prices and production schedules. At the time, Justice Louis Brandies told a top Roosevelt aide:

"This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we are not going to let this government centralize everything. It's come to an end. As for your young men, you call them together and tell them to get out of Washington -- tell them to go home to the states. That is where they must do their work."

My friends, we have been doing the work in Michigan. As governor of a state with more than 3,000 miles of coastline on the nation's most precious fresh water resources -- the Great Lakes -- I know that the quality of our natural resources directly affect the lives an livelihoods of all our citizens.

I believe strongly that a healthy environment and a healthy economy are mutually sustainable. You cannot have one without the other. On a microeconomic level, I also believe that good environmental policy is good business. However, the unfortunate reality id that government policies designed to protect or to clean up the environment that do not recognize this basic principle of mutual sustainability are usually counterproductive.

For example, consider the federal Superfund program. Rather than directing limited resources to achieve the most cost effective reduction in health risk to the public, Superfund has spawned endless lawsuits and legal wrangling, much-delayed and ever more costly cleanups, and contaminated sites that remain unused, undeveloped and a threat to public health. Indeed, I am told that as much as 80 percent of the funding for this program goes to pay lawyers. Maybe we ought to rename Superfund the "Superlawyer Fund."

I am especially concerned about the program's explicit failure to rehabilitate urban "brownfield" sites and to make them available for redevelopment. In a scientific survey of Michigan's environmental; problems. The inability to reuse such urban sites in favor of suburban and rural "Greenfield" was identified as our state's top concern.

The current CERCLA liability scheme of strict, joint and several and retroactive liability is part of the problem. While the system is labeled "polluter's pay," in reality it is "deep pockets pay." As a result, redevelopment efforts are stymied as cleanup costs skyrocket and liability disputes escalate.

Until last year, Michigan's cleanup rules had mirrored the federal CERCLA liability scheme and the lack of results, especially in our inner cities, was all too evident. With tlie support of a wide geographical range of city mayors, in June 1995, I signed legislation that replaced strict liability for owners and operators with a liability standard based on causation.

This approach retains the concept that the polluters should pay by still holding the parties that caused the problem liable for cleaning it up. We also enacted a blanket exemption from liability for existing contaminated culpable purchasers and occupants of contaminated property.

In addition, we have strengthened and expanded liability protections available to lenders who foreclose on contaminated property. I strongly encourage identical liability protections be included in Superfund in each of theses areas. Such reforms are vital to state and city efforts to encourage reuse of contaminated property.

Further encouragement can be provided by cleanup standards based on land use. Recent reforms in Michigan allow us to use containment remedies and land use controls in lieu of performing costly remediations. Combined with a single risk level and specific soil and groundwater cleanup criteria, we can develop remedial action plans for sites of environmental contamination far more quickly than Records of Decision can be developed under Superfund.

Our new cleanup standards allow us to use our limited resources to get the best protection for our citizens. Indeed, we estimate that these reforms will reduce the cost of cleaning a site by up to 50 percent while still providing fully protective remedies.

The results so far have been impressive. A study of our reforms that was released earlier this year showed an increase in investment by the private sector of more than $220 million and the creation of more than 2,300 jobs in redevelopment projects.

In contract, on the federal level, under the current Superfund law we have the worst of all possible worlds: Burdensome cleanup rules and considerable duplication between the federal and state government serve to waste money, delay cleanup projects and deny accountability to the public.

Superfund is only one example of a federal environmental policy that is counterproductive, costly, and cumbersome to the states. I wish I had time to discuss all my concerns with management of the EPA, but let me just briefly highlight a few.

First, the Clinton administration has proposed stricter clean air standards that threaten to put virtually every major metropolitan area in Michigan and America into noncompliance. The result would be severe restrictions on economic growth in those areas, especially the very same inner cities that desperately need growth and new jobs.

Second, the EPA has launched an all-out assault on states that have enacted environmental audit laws that encourage companies to perform such audits and promptly report and correct violations. In fact, the EPA has punished such states by interfering in the state delegation of federal programs like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental statutes.

Heavyhanded, autocratic, and unelected bureaucrats at the EPA are telling the states that we are guilty until proven innocent. Even worse, we most likely face similar punishments for implementing emissions trading programs and wetlands mitigation banks. To the EPA, no good deed by the states goes unpunished.

Third, bowing to pressure from environmental extremists, the EPA recently took unprecedented steps to stall a solution mining project in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, delaying the project for at least 18 months and costing at least 100 jobs.

The reversal of EPA policy came as a shock to the mining compacy, the workers and state officials, for the EPA had been working closely with them for two years and had previously approved the project.

The irony is that an idle copper mine threatens nearby Lake Superior. An active solution mine would permanently protect the lake. The end result of the EPA's meddling? Jobs lost and a Great Lake threatened.

Fourth, a recently leaked memo from the EPA reveals a secret Clinton plan to raise the federal gas tax by 50 cents, increase CAFE standards and tighten auto emission restrictions -- all without the approval of Congress. I would call this secret plan a disaster for Michigan -- the nation's number one auto-producing state!

Using an obscure section of legislation enacted in the early 1960's, the author of this memo claims the president has the authority to administratively enact such measures based on national security concerns. That tells me we need more CEI fellows standing careful watch over an administration that accepts environmental extremism as gospel and rejects common sesnse cost-benefit analysis as heresy.

That's why they punished the president for his 1.7 million acre land grab in Utah by defeating that state's only Democratic Congressman, Bill Orton. That's why they re-elected a Republican Congress for the first time in 70 years. That's why states from Maine to Montana rejected extremist ballot measures.

In Michigan, for example, by a two to one margin, voters rejected a measure sponsored by animal rights activists that would have virtually eliminated bear hunting.

In our democracy, that is our saving grace -- the vote of the people. And that is the best reflection of Warren Brookes' legacy -- a voting public that is better informed on issues from the environment to the economy.

The voters don't make the right choice every time, but with the wise balance of power devised by our founding fathers, I believe that America is back on track to developing an environmental policy based on sound science, relative risk, and free market principles.

We won't get there overnight, but we will get there. That's our promise to Warren Brookes and his legacy to us.

Thank you very much.