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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment, As Prepared

01/30/2014
Thanks so much. It’s so good to be here.

Tuesday night, we heard President Obama say that “
the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” He made the point that science and research are critical to keeping that competitive edge in our country. I couldn’t agree more.

From keeping our air and water clean to combating climate change, science has always been at the heart of our mission at EPA. Science helped build the environmental movement that led to our landmark environmental laws at a pivotal time in our history. Science showed us beyond a doubt the deadly effects of a destroyed ozone layer; the dangers of mercury and arsenic poisoning; and the threat of smog and particulate matter to our health, especially to kids. And science, research, and discovery are what allow us to discuss, debate, and develop the best solutions to meet those tremendous challenges.

All of our priorities at EPA to protect public health and environment are grounded in science. Among them, protecting our precious waters and combating climate change are high on the list. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today: how using science to build climate solutions is helping us secure a future for our children that is safer, healthier, and more prosperous.

In the State of the Union, you heard President Obama double down on his commitment to acting on climate change and growing our economy. A commitment he made clear in his climate action plan, which aims to curb carbon pollution, build climate resilience in our towns and cities, and lead the world to a sustainable, clean energy future.

Science is critical to each part of the plan. At EPA, it’s science that’s leading us to flexible, commonsense standards to curb carbon pollution from our power plants. And to get there, we’re making sure everyone’s voices are heard: businesses, advocacy groups, industry, students, faith leaders, consumer organizations, and more. Our doors are open.

Science is also helping us build resilience to climate impacts, and one of those ways is through our national stormwater calculator. Last summer, EPA released phase one of the national stormwater calculator and climate assessment tool package. Today, I’m proud to announce that we are releasing phase two.

The stormwater calculator is used to estimate the annual amount of stormwater runoff at a specific site. Phase two includes updates that incorporate different data variations in future climate scenarios. Using the tool, we can learn which green infrastructure strategies—like rain barrels and rain gardens—can reduce stormwater runoff and build safer, more resilient water systems in a cost effective way.

Another factor threatening water resources and families nationwide is nutrient pollution. It’s one of America's most widespread and costly environmental problems. It’s caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus and comes from runoff, industrial discharge, agriculture, power plants, and more. States have identified about 15,000 water bodies across the United States with nutrient-related problems. Curbing nutrient pollution protects public health and keeps America’s waters safe to drink, swim, and fish.

That’s why I’m proud to announce that today EPA is awarding nearly $9 million in grants through our “Science to Achieve Results” program to four research institutions across the country. This investment will go toward water research to better manage nutrients and better protect our precious water supplies. Recipients include:

Penn State, who will look at nutrient flows in the Pennsylvania and Chesapeake basin.

The University of South Florida will examine coastal areas like Tampa Bay that have problems with aging wastewater collection and treatment and are also dealing with rapid population growth.

Colorado State will look at the links among physical, biological, legal, social, and economic factors of nutrient management in different regions.

And the Water Environment Research Foundation will build on innovative research to reduce nutrient pollution by recovering nutrients from wastewaters for use as valuable resources.

And when it comes to nutrient pollution and other dangers to our water systems—we simply cannot ignore that climate change is making them worse. Climate resilience and strong, sustainable water infrastructure go hand in hand—and science is the key to unlocking the best solutions going forward.

When it comes to water, our scientists are making sure utilities have the data they need to effectively treat water and respond to extreme weather events. They’re helping water quality managers protect critical river ecosystems, knowing that climate change disrupts flow patterns and increases flood risks in watersheds across the country. We see science is critical to a safe environment and better public health—but it’s also key to a strong economy.

And we know that we don’t have to sacrifice a healthy environment for a healthy economy. Just look at the facts: every dollar we’ve invested to comply with the Clean Air Act has returned $4 to $8 in economic benefits.

The same goes for our work supporting local efforts to build climate resilience. States and cities are already leading the way because when climate impacts harm water supplies or small businesses at the local level—the costs of
inaction are clear.

That’s why the President launched a task force of local leaders to advise us on the best climate resilience strategies. Mayors from across the country came to the white house just last week—and climate was one of their main areas of discussion.

From protecting our water to combating climate change, the challenges we face are steep. Today we face as pivotal a time as any in our history. And now more than ever we have to continue to rely on science as our guide. Scientists help us better understand the world, so that our mission to protect public health and the environment can endure. Businesses, advocacy groups, and more help turn the wheels of progress toward a safer, healthier future.

We all do these things because, as President Obama said Tuesday night, when our kids “
look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world”… we all want to be able to say “yes, we did.

Thank you.