Media Center



May 15, 1995 - Washington, DC

"The future quality of the lives of our children for generations to come depends upon how wisely and how well we manage these changes today."

We are here today to sign a memorandum of understanding between the environmental protection agency (EPA) of the United States of America and the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS). In signing this memorandum we commit our two institutions to cooperate on programs to protect the environment of the citizens of the Americas. Signing this document is a significant act; please allow me to explain.

At the Miami summit last december, United States vice president Al Gore stated that we stood "at a new moment in the americas." Democracy is flourishing. Political, social and economic trends bring the countries of our hemisphere closer together than ever before, giving us unique opportunities as well as new challenges. Virtually every political, social, and economic change has a direct or indirect impact on the environment -- i.e. our health and livelihood. The future quality of the lives of our children for generations to come depends upon how wisely and how well we manage these changes today. Indeed, we are in a "new moment in the americas" -- one which demands bold action.

The Summit of the Americas initiated a process of communication and collaboration on issues of importance to the hemisphere. This process requires us to consolidate the progress we have made over the last decade in promoting democracy, protecting human rights, integrating free and open markets, and defeating corruption in the americas. In addition, a critical pillar of the mandate of miami is the commitment to protect the environment through sustainable development.

These are issues which transcend national boundaries and are hemispheric or even global in scope. Only with intensified efforts to resolve these issues together will we be able to effectively address them. The americas is blessed with a unique advantage over any other region -- its geography. We ought to be able to set an example for the rest of the world by creating a regional response to the protection of the environment.

A major program defined by the summit of the americas' work plan, is the establishment of a "partnership for pollution prevention." To some, environmental safeguards in a region that still suffers from grinding poverty seem like a luxury we cannot afford. I would argue that the costs of inaction are even greater. In fact, as Rio taught us, we cannot think of poverty and the environment as two separate issues.

The scientists and policy makers at the environmental protection agency and at the OAS are aware of this linkage: Twenty percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to drinking water . 33 percent lack access to basic sanitation services -- together this totals over 146 million people.

Some latin american countries have incidence of waterborne disease that are among the highest in the world: between 2,800 to 8,200 cases per 100,000 population.

The daily loss of life from preventable causes that can be directly linked to contaminated air, food, and water is tragic. Addressing this problem is not a luxury and requires partnerships of the national and international agencies of the Americas.

This memorandum of understanding brings together two institutions that share the same concern -- that the people they serve be granted their right to a clean and healthy environment that nurtures rather than destroys, and that encourages each citizen to attain his or her full potential.

The opening phrases of the Charter of the Organization of American States offers to the citizens of the Americas a land of liberty, a favorable environment for their development, and the realization of their just aspirations. The US Environmental Protection Agency can help make this mission a reality.

We can already see the potential benefits of this memorandum of understanding. EPA Office of Water is a member of the advisory council of the inter-american water resources network for which the OAS serves as technical secretariat. This is an excellent example of the kind of cooperation I mean: the US environmental protection agency brings information, technology and experience that can be transferred throughout the region. The Organization of American States, as a leader in the inter-american system and through its members, contacts, networks and cooperative programs, can orient, focus and disseminate policies and technologies that will help ensure that our people enjoy a safe, productive and satisfying environment.

The OAS is serious in its commitment to fulfil the mandates of the summit of the americas. I view this arrangement as a critical building block in the creation of an inter-American response to the environment. I am therefore very pleased to sign this memorandum of understanding today with administrator browner.