Thank you, Sherri [Goodman, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security] for your kind words, and for all you have done for our department and our environment. Jack Gansler [Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Logistics]; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
It is wonderful to be here and wonderful to be outside. I think it is quite fitting that we gather in the Pentagon’s own green acre of nature to praise the good stewards of our natural resources.
Even more, during a time that is challenging for us as a nation, and very difficult for many of our fellow man across the sea, it is a pleasure to talk about good people who are doing good in the world; to honor men and women who are not only helping our planet but who, in a very direct way, are helping people, particularly children, live better, healthier, safer lives.
Indeed, the work you do is in stark contrast to the images we are seeing every night on television news. While others lay waste to entire communities, you are saving and improving communities. While others are creating scars that will last a generation, your work will benefit countless future generations.
The sad fact is that the world is populated with individuals who are capable of remarkable acts of brutality and cruelty. Others, like you, are committed to remarkable acts of goodness. So I am very glad to be here to help celebrate and honor you and your work.
Many of you, I’m sure, know the line from the Sermon on the Mount, "the meek shall inherit the earth." Well, at the Department of Defense, we also believe it is the responsibility of the strong to protect the earth. And while we are best known for our work defending and protecting our national security; we also do a very good job of defending and protecting wilderness areas, sites of historic and cultural value, and animal habitats.
DoD is among the largest land owners in America. We manage an amazing array of diverse and wonderful landscapes containing a huge variety of plants and animals: the remote high desert of Nevada; the teeming swamplands of Florida; the endless tree-covered mountains of Idaho. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously.
One of the lessons that President Clinton and Vice President Gore have worked hard to communicate to the American people is that environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in the long run, they are mutually re-enforcing.
In the same way, one of the lessons all of you have been demonstrating through your great work is that environmental security and national security can be mutually enhancing as well; that, very often, we can accomplish our primary mission, defending the United States, more efficiently and effectively when we cut waste.
We undertake these actions for many reasons. They save us money. They protect the health of our service members and military families and communities. And because it is our responsibility. The truth is that in the past, all of us were less aware of the need to be good stewards of the air, land, and water and the Department of Defense was no exception. Just look at the environmental damage being repaired at bases that have been closed. In some cases, readying closed bases for civilian use has meant cleaning up decades of waste that has stained the land.
Today’s award winners lead the way in our effort to protect the environment. At Fort Belvoir here in Virginia, a forestland corridor protects the passage of wildlife. At the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland they now recycle half of all solid waste and have significantly cut back industrial water use. At Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, they have drastically reduced hazardous waste disposal and toxic chemical releases. And at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina the Marines have decreased waste sent to land fills by more than half, and increased recycling by 600%. Ladies and gentlemen, these are extraordinary accomplishments, as are those of all our winners and nominees from around the country.
Our renewed appreciation and respect for the land is, in one sense, a return to the principles of America’s founding generation. The founders of our nation had a profound appreciation for the connection between our lives and the earth on which we depend. Jefferson, who maintained a passion for the natural world throughout his life, once said, "The soil is the gift of God to the living." And just as we continually rededicate ourselves to defending the gift of liberty, we must rededicate ourselves to protecting the soil and air and water for future generations.
So, let me offer my heartfelt congratulations, and gratitude, to all of you who are protecting our natural heritage. Because of your work, our national security is stronger, our communities are safer, and our world is a better place. Thank you very much.