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Challenges Federal Agencies, Scientific Community
To Monitor Nation's Ecosystems

from THE WHITE HOUSE, Office of the Vice President
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 25, 1996 Contact: (202) 456-7035

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Al Gore today (9/25/96) challenged federal agencies to work with the scientific community and other interested parties to produce a "report card" on the health of the nation's ecosystems.

The charge was delivered in a letter to participants attending a National Environmental Monitoring and Research Workshop at the Smithsonian Institution, designed to integrate the nation,s environmental monitoring and related research. The workshop is a first step aimed at coordinating 15,000 federal environmental monitoring sites and the $650 million spent annually on environmental monitoring, as well as state and local monitoring efforts. The workshop brings together more than 100 experts in both the public and private sectors to address environmental monitoring issues.

The Vice President's letter calls for the report card to provide a "guide for public and private decisions at all levels and an accounting of the effects of decisions for our citizens."

To be completed by the year 2001, the report card would establish an environmental baseline to evaluate the status of our ecosystems. It will assess trends in such key indicators as wetland and forest preservation, timber productivity, croplands fertility, and fisheries recovery and production. It also seeks to determine whether the laws to protect the health of the environment are working.

Copies of the Vice President's letter are available from the Environment Division of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, (202) 456-6202. [and see below -- SY]



September 25, 1996

Dear Workshop Participant:

I am pleased that this truly scholarly group of stakeholders has assembled to help us grapple with such an important task. Reinventing our National environmental monitoring is certainly one of the most significant efforts underway in our government today.

Environmental monitoring is the foundation for the scientific information necessary to make wise decisions key to meeting the twin goals of continued vigorous economic growth and preservation of our magnificent natural heritage for generations to come. Environmental monitoring must also be available to the public to inform them and facilitate their participation in our democracy. The knowledge we gain from improved monitoring of our rivers, forests, oceans and air is the knowledge we need to make informed decisions. This understanding is one of the pillars of our bridge to the twenty-first century.

We have benefitted from 25 years of bipartisan environmental progress -- started by a Democratic Congress under a Republican President. In 1970, we saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Those institutions have served us well. Today the air we breath is purer, the water we drink is cleaner, and the land we live on is safer from hazards. But our work is far from done.

Throughout those 25 years we have recognized the ever more pressing need to improve our understanding of the environment, and the critical role of monitoring in this endeavor. The very first CEQ report had a section titled: "Needed -- Monitoring and Research." It went on to say: "at present (environmental monitoring systems) do not provide the type of information or coverage necessary to evaluate the condition of the Nation,s environment or to chart changes in its quality and trace their causes. Therefore, a major national objective must be to develop a comprehensive nationwide system of environmental monitoring, information, and analysis."

Since then that need has been expressed many times -- in reports by the National Academy of Sciences; the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology and Government; the bipartisan Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and many others. The need is greater today than ever before. And it turns out that the problem _ is not _ simply that more must be done. We need to do things differently and better.

We must improve coordination of the 15,000 Federal environmental monitoring sites to understand the causes and effects of environmental change.

We now know the necessity of looking at the effects of multiple stresses on whole ecosystems and, indeed, the whole planet in order to understand change and sustain development. We now know that we have to manage for multiple objectives rather than single purposes.

The health of our ecosystems is integral to the health of our people. We are making wonderful strides in our efforts to protect the public health from environmental threats, and I urge you to consider how your work can support those efforts as this initiative moves forward.

This conference today is focussing on one critical and unsung piece of the total environmental puzzle -- ecosystems. As part of the National Performance Review in 1993, I initiated the inter-agency Ecosystem Management Initiative. That year we also began the President,s Council for Sustainable Development. Both prescribe bold new environmental policies that will minimize confrontation between parties and maximize environmental progress. However, it is clear that we need the best environmental observing, understanding, and forecasting capabilities that we can provide to support ecosystem management. Today,s challenge is to improve those capabilities -- initially across the Federal agencies, and ultimately, with our public and private partners.

The agencies are ready to join this effort. You will hear from the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, NOAA and EPA that we are ready to meet this challenge. Judging from your presence here, the stakeholders also are ready to rise to this task.

Technology also is now ripe to meet this long-standing need; the information superhighway is one of the critical tools we need. In 1970, a desktop computer was unheard of, surveyors labored days and even weeks to determine positions, and expert cartographers worked even longer to produce paper maps. Today virtually every business and thirty percent of our homes have computers. With a pocket receiver and the Global Positioning System, locations can be determined instantaneously and accurately. Geographic information systems make it possible to bring together all types of map data and entire libraries of maps to bear on a problem. Even more importantly, we have the tools to begin to model the way that our environment behaves and to predict what will happen if we take, or fail to take, particular actions.

American citizens really decide what actions we, as a country, choose to take. They are demanding that their government serve them better and it is up to us to respond. This August, President Clinton directed the agencies to develop an integrated system for providing the public "one-stop access" to environmental information. My challenge to the Federal agencies responsible for natural resource programs and environmental quality is to work in partnership with state and local governments and non-governmental organizations. We must develop an integrated and comprehensive environmental monitoring system out of the many separate networks that exist today.

Such a system can help us understand environmental problems -- and help us solve them. It can give us the information we need to judge how effective our investments are.

Today, I am challenging our agencies to work with the scientific community and other interested parties to produce a "report card" on the health of our Nation's ecosystems by 2001.

This report card should establish an environmental baseline to evaluate the status of our ecosystems. We need to know whether or not our wetlands and forests are improving, whether our timber productivity is increasing, whether our croplands are as fertile as they can be and whether our fisheries are recovering. We need to understand if the laws we have put in place to protect the health of the environment are working. I am convinced that such a periodic report card will provide an invaluable guide for public and private decisions at all levels and an accounting of the effects of decisions for our citizens.

I recognize the difficulty of the task before you. There are numerous obstacles to be overcome in coordinating monitoring activities and distilling the information to provide the best scientific representation. But I am confident you are up to the task, and you have my support and that of the President.

Most significantly, you have the support of the American people. Thank you for all of your hard work.



Al Gore


[Transcribed from paper copies by Steve Young,, 8 October 1996. Several typos were silently corrected. He is responsible for any transcription errors.]