George Allen Gives Keynote Address at CEI Annual Dinner

Former Virginia Governor George Allen gave the keynote address at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual Warren Brookes Dinner on April 27, 2000. Nearly 400 people crowded into the ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, for CEI’s sixth annual dinner honoring the late Detroit News columnist. Brookes passed away in 1991, and CEI’s dinner has been among the most visible of the Institute’s efforts to preserve and advance the legacy Warren Brookes left.

The dinner was emceed by National Review’s Kate O’Beirne. Other speakers included CEI’s president Fred Smith, senior environmental fellow Jonathan Adler, former Transportation Secretary Andrew Card, and VA delegate Paul Harris, who introduced Mr. Allen. What follows is an except from Gov. Allen’s remarks.


GOV. ALLEN: Thank you, Paul [VA Del. Paul Harris] for that kind introduction and for the great job you are doing for Virginia in the General Assembly.

It’s great to be with so many good friends and allies to celebrate another outstanding year for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. It’s truly invigorating to be surrounded by so many creative, active leaders who are purusing common-sense Jeffersonian conservative principles here in our Capitol and throughout our nation.

Fred [Fred L. Smith, Jr. President, President of CEI], you and your team are to be commended for your commitment the American Dream of economic freedom and opportunity, which is as essential today as it was at our nation’s founding. You all know that by adhering to these foundational principles, all Americans will reach even greater and higher levels of success and prosperity in the 21st Century than has been enjoyed in all history.

And being from the “Silicon Dominion,” I want to commend you all at CEI particularly for the important work you have done to keep the Internet free of unfair, burdensome taxation policies that would impede its continued growth as a source of commerce, education, and information. We need allies, because I can tell you there are a lot of folks here in Washington and in the legislatures and Governors’ offices around the country who are seeing only the dollar signs – more money for government.

My friends, the Internet has the most profound liberating potential since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, which allowed the mass distribution of ideas, thoughts and information. I look at the Internet as an individualized, nationwide and increasingly worldwide Enterprise Zone. You can count on me to stand with you to keep the heavy hand of government from diminishing the bright promise of this relatively new medium of communication, education, medical service and commerce.

A New Economy for the new Millennium

Ladies and Gentleman, we have arrived at the Third Millennium in the midst of a significant economic transformation. The sage journalist for whom this banquet is named, Warren Brookes, in 1982 wrote of this transformation in his book The Economy in Mind. Two decades ago, he observed that we were casting off the limitations of the industrial age, where the economy was “confined to and limited by earth’s physical resources.”

The New Economy he foresaw is the knowledge-based economy that is just beginning to blossom. Its potential is awe-inspiring and invigorating. Indeed, as Warren Brookes wrote, in the new economy the most valuable natural resource is human creativity.

I see these empowering technological advances as the key to Americans competing and succeeding in this new millennium and leading productive, fulfilling lives, limited only by their own imaginations. These technological advances will provide us with greater individual freedom and opportunity for prosperity, for improved health, and a cleaner environment. And it is through the “window” of the technological revolution that oppressed people around the world will get their first real glimpse or contemplation of freedom’s promise.

Encouraging Creative Businesses to Grow and Flourish

Across the Potomac in Virginia – the “Silicon Dominion” – we have enthusiastically embraced the Information Age, welcoming with open arms companies such as Gateway Computers, Oracle, IBM-Toshiba’s Dominion Semiconductor, Motorola-Siemens’ White Oak Semiconductor, Nextel, MCI-Worldcom and so many others that have moved to or grown on Virginia’s fertile entrepreneurial soil.

But the Silicon Dominion didn’t just happen. It required personal attention and recruitment by the Governor. And we put in place the positive tax and regulatory policies that helped attract these businesses and many others:

Enterprise Zones. We doubled the number of enterprise zones and used them to attract companies like Gateway 2000, which set up its East Coast operations in Hampton. I look at Enterprise Zones as economic object lessons – reducing taxes and regulatory burdens do indeed create more jobs and opportunity.

Prompt Permitting. In the world of technology, time is compressed into microseconds. Competition is fierce, and prompt permitting can mean the difference between success and failure. It was heartening to hear officials from Motorola tell other semiconductor chip manufacturers at Semicon West how Virginia issued their air permit in only 28 days for their multibillion dollar fabrication plant in the Richmond area. The fastest they’d seen up to that point was three months in Texas, and in California it could take a year and a half and they might still be waiting.

Regulating the Regulators. In our administration, we sought to regulate the regulators. We made sure that regulations are based on sound science, not political science. We required economic impact statements before new regulations went into effect. Yes, we care about fungus and isopods, and snail darters. But government ought to take into account the impact of a regulation on people, their property and their jobs as well.

In Virginia, we directed a review of every single one of the 1,456 State regulations to weed out those that were unnecessary and make sure that we those that remained accomplished their purpose in the least restrictive manner possible. Over 70% of our regulations were eliminated or amended to be less burdensome and more logical through this four-year effort.

Protecting and Improving The Environment

Now, like the man we honor tonight, I’m going to offer you a premise that runs counter to the conventional wisdom about the economy and the environment: Economic prosperity and environmental progress can and should be compatible. The challenge of leadership is to achieve both by using common sense, sound science and new technology.

The natural beauty of Virginia and America is inspirational to me, whether it’s canoeing on the James River with my children, bicycling with Susan on the old Virginia Creeper Trail, driving in the Shenandoah Valley to take in the fall foliage, or playing in the surf with Tyler and Forrest and Brooke at Virginia Beach. We all want our children and our children’s children to enjoy God's magnificent creation.

In Virginia, we have coupled our determination to foster a positive business climate with our commitment to enhancing our natural environment. And environmental quality improved while we were attracting a record $14 billion in new investment and bringing 312,000 net new private-sector jobs to Virginia.

But don’t just take my word for it. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Environmental Studies conducted a comprehensive, independent evaluation, the first ever to gauge state environmental trends using a scientifically valid statistical model. The findings: The turnaround in Virginia’s overall environment began in 1994 – our first year in office – and today we have cleaner air and cleaner water.

When I entered office, Virginia had four areas on EPA’s clean air “nonattainment” list. In the summer of 1997, the EPA quietly dropped Richmond from its list of smoggy cities. Having steadily improved for the previous four years, Richmond’s air quality attained federal clean air standards, as did air quality in Hampton Roads and White Top Mountain. Even in the Washington metropolitan area that includes Northern Virginia, air quality is significantly improved.

Under our stewardship, Virginia’s water has become cleaner as well. We increased water quality monitoring stations by 25%, to over 1,100 so that we monitored water quality in over 29,000 miles of rivers and streams. To put it in perspective, that’s more miles monitored than any other State in the nation!

Nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment levels in our non-tidal rivers declined between 1985 and 1997. The amounts of toxic chemicals released by Virginia industries into our air, land and water is less than half the 1987 level. And we put in place the State’s first comprehensive program to reduce nutrients flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries [the Chesapeake Bay Tributaries Strategy] as well as the Agricultural Stewardship Act and tax credits to help farmers acquire technology and use practices that reduce pollution. Today, the once-endangered striped bass population has been pronounced completely recovered and scores of bald eagles, once an endangered species, are again roosting along Virginia’s rivers.

How did we achieve these results? It wasn’t by dutifully following prescriptions from Washington.

Indeed, we had some rather well publicized “disagreements” with the Environmental Protection Agency and its one-size-fits-all, command-and-control approach.

A typical example is EPA’s administration of the Clean Air Act. They were insisting on a centralized “test and repair” program that would have forced Northern Virginia drivers to run their 1 million cars through fewer than a dozen government-run inspection stations, then ping-pong back and forth to get them repaired and re-tested. We held out for the more sensible option of using the private-sectors’ network of auto dealerships and service stations. With hundreds of stations that can perform repairs on-site, it is more convenient for the people – the owners of government – and equally effective in making sure a vehicle’s emissions system is in good working order.

This exemplifies our logical and pragmatic approach to regulations. We preferred the carrot to the stick, and emphasized cooperation, rather than heavy-handed burdens. And we put our trust in free people, free enterprise and free markets to help achieve our shared goals of clean air, clean land and clean water using innovative ideas, common-sense solutions, and new technologies.

In short, we accomplished the same goals of cleaner air and water with a Virginia solution, not a Washington solution. And we did it in a more constructive, people-friendly and practical manner.

An Agenda for Washington

But my friends, our job is not finished. While these ideas and approaches are so positively affecting the lives of Virginians, we need to apply these same sound principles and thinking at the national level.

Logical and Balanced Approach to Regulation

Regulatory reform in Washington is long overdue. Nowhere in our Constitution are unelected bureaucracies empowered to arbitrarily impose billions of dollars in burdens on the people and businesses of this country. Yet the cost of federal regulation today is $700 billion annually, almost as much as the total of all individual income taxes paid. The Clinton-Gore administration has even gone so far as to try to undermine the democratic checks by attempting to implement the misguided and harmful Kyoto Treaty by regulation.

Congress must be clear and specific in its direction to regulatory agencies. We must insist that regulations be based on cost-benefit analysis and science-based risk assessments. They should set forth measurable goals, but we don’t need stifling, nitpicking details that dictate how they are to be achieved. We should leave it to the creativity of the American people to effectuate the goals. Regulations should not prevent the use of least burdensome and least costly alternatives because they are inconvenient for the bureaucracy.

And friends, it’s time we start using plain English when writing regulations, not try to obfuscate their meaning. The Internet can make government more open and accessible, but not if what people find on agency web sites and in the Federal Register is a tedious mass of bureaucratic “encryption.” In 1996 the Code of Federal Regulations filled 204 volumes, a total of 132,112 pages taking up 19 feet of shelf space!

I think we can do better. Indeed, we did so in Virginia. For example, our Department of Transportation regulations governing Transportation of Hazardous Materials were revised in 1995 from a 180-page book to a two-page laminated guide to make them less burdensome, more responsive, and easier to understand. I would like to see Washington follow Virginia’s example and review all existing regulations as to their purpose and determine, if they are still necessary, whether there is a better manner to achieve their goal.

Trusting Free People, Free Enterprise, and Free Markets

In the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, whose seat both Paul and I have had the privilege of representing in Virginia’s General Assembly, we should always remember that the best ideas are not found in the cold marble hallways of Washington but come instead from trusting the common sense of the people. This is especially true when it comes to the environment where we all share a common goal – to safeguard our natural resources not only for ourselves but also for future generations.

Each of us must play a role in ensuring that our natural resources are protected. To promote public awareness and involvement in maintaining a cleaner and more healthy environment in Virginia, we initiated two annual events. The Fall River Renaissance in the autumn focuses attention on cleaning up and improving streams, rivers, lakes and waterways in Virginia.

And this month, over 17,000 Virginians across the Commonwealth have been volunteering in Operation Spruce-Up, which includes hundreds of “spring cleanup” projects. Indeed, I’m going to be joining my daughter Tyler out on the Rappahannock River on Sunday helping plant cordgrass and cleaning up the water and shoreline at Belle Isle State Park.

Similarly, I believe we need to start looking at our business community as partners when it comes to the environment. For example, we could employ this kind of cooperative approach for one of our seemingly more intractable environmental problems – our existing “Superfund” and “brownfield” sites.

The federal Superfund law has benefited certain lawyers – but not the environment. After almost 20 years, only a small fraction of the 1,300 Superfund sites have actually been cleaned up. Under this failed system, people must suffer poisoned and blighted lands in their cities, towns and suburbs with little hope of seeing these sites cleaned up in their lifetimes.

The current stalemate of lawsuits wastes taxpayer money that the government could be using to help the environment. A better option would be to utilize a successful economic development strategy and create “environmental enterprise zones.” Currently unused and unusable “brownfields” and Superfund” sites would be redesignated as Environmental Enterprise Zones (EEZs) where public-private partnerships, tax and debt incentives, and civil immunity are provided to facilitate the site cleanup. The private sector will remediate the properties to EPA standards, but without being micromanaged by EPA every-step of the way.

This innovative approach builds on a successful Virginia program that is helping produce voluntary remediation of certain brownfields located in existing enterprise zones. This beneficial plan can especially help to revitalize urban areas. And when such usable, productive, and safe sites are available, many enterprises will not have to go to the suburbs to find good locations for operation.

Urban sprawl is a local concern, but when family farms are broken up or sold to development, it is often because of federal inheritance taxes. The federal government should stop forcing family landowners to sell their property to pay federal death taxes. Our rallying cry should be, “No taxation without respiration!”

Embracing the Advances of Technology

In Virginia’s vibrant, job-creating economy, increasing numbers of manufacturers, businesses and entrepreneurs are investing in, developing and selling new, cleaner technologies that benefit us all.

To encourage environmental progress, we must foster and reward the creativity and ingenuity of scientists, engineers and technologists in private enterprise. We want them to continue to produce and invent the intellectual property and innovations that are so positively revolutionizing our commerce, health and medical sciences, businesses and lives; certainly not stifle them with unnecessary taxation and burdensome regulations.

We also need to think outside the box – or the CPU, so to speak – when it comes to the environment, and the Information Age is giving us some new and exciting choices like telecommuting or telework and satellite offices.

Warren Brookes was one of the pioneers of telecommuting. Most of his writing was done from his home in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. He traveled into D.C. only for specific events and interviews. Even before the Internet, Warren Brookes was able to rely on his word processor, the telephone, the fax machine, C-Span, a very busy Federal Express man – and his own uncanny ability to absorb and digest huge quantities of hard information from original sources – to establish a “virtual presence” in Washington without actually being there.

Encouraging telework is a common-sense policy with obvious benefits:

  • Trusting people to work from home reduces congestion on our highways and commute times for those who still have to drive.
  • It is family-friendly, and makes it easier for parents to participate in the workforce and still spend time with their families.
  • It improves air quality in a positive way in contrast to imposing punishing new taxes on gasoline as some of the more out-of-touch politicians have suggested or raising CAFE standards to force the comfortable, safe vehicles that people desire off the road.
  • Further, it expands the workforce by attracting capable individuals – especially mothers with small children at home – and all they need is the Internet, a fax and a phone.

It would seem logical for our government to look for ways to encourage employers and employees to take advantage of these options, for example, a telecommuter tax credit for businesses who trust employees to work from their homes. Instead, we have the Department of Labor (OSHA) coming out with an illogical set of regulations that would have applied OSHA standards and employer liability to home offices. Public outrage forced a reversal, for now. But clearly the administration still doesn’t understand the obvious advantages of this common-sense approach.

I have written to President Clinton and asked the federal government, the largest employer in Northern Virginia and metropolitan Washington area, to lead by example. For seven months, an Executive Order on Federal Workforce Transportation in the National Capital Region sat on President Clinton’s desk. Last week, he stripped out the telework section before signing an emasculated order.

Leadership by the federal government could encourage private-sector employers to increase telework options. Instead, this administration seems intent on thwarting choice, even for its own employees.

New Frontiers of Opportunity

Upon returning to France, Alexis de Toqueville wrote in his classic 1832 study Democracy in America:

“America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement… No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and in his eyes, what is not yet done is only what has not yet been attempted.”

Never before in our history has the potential for change and improvement been greater.

Obviously, I am optimistic about the future for improved education, expanded economic opportunities, and yes, protecting and preserving our natural resources and heritage at the same time.

But ladies and gentleman, if we adhere to foundational common-sense Jeffersonian conservative principles to foster an environment where all creative enterprises can continue to grow and flourish, then the possibilities for our American democracy in the 21st Century are truly limitless. And we will continue to be, as we have been since our founding, a land of innovation and advancement and especially a beacon of freedom and opportunity to people around the world.

Thank you all so very much.