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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the Edison Electric Institute Meeting, As Prepared

01/07/2010
As prepared for delivery.

Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I’m honored to be here with Senator Graham, a thoughtful and dedicated public servant. And I’m glad to have this chance to meet with all of you – particularly at the beginning of 2010, a year in which the issues we work on are going to play a major role.

We are on the cusp of major transitions for our environment, for our economy, for our energy industry. None of the changes will be without their challenges. But I’m here today because I believe we can find common ground to meet those challenges. Things happened in the last year that have given me hope on that point. I was glad to see EEI constructively engaged in the passage of responsible clean energy and climate legislation in the House. This organization deserves to be commended for that, and I believe your members saw positive results from coming to the table. In that same spirit, American automakers worked with EPA on our proposed clean cars rule. That marks the nation’s first formal effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil, avoid 900 million tons of greenhouse-gas pollution, and save drivers money at the pump. For its part, EPA crafted a mandatory reporting rule for greenhouse-gas emissions that avoids placing any burdens on small businesses. We are working to tailor stationary-source permitting requirements in a similar way. We know that the local coffee shop is no place to look for meaningful greenhouse reductions, and we don’t want to put anything in the way of those important economic drivers and job creators. Finally, earlier this week we were able to recommended approval for the Hobet 45 coal mine in West Virginia. That came about through close work with the mining company to reduce the health and environmental impacts of the project.

These are examples of the common ground I hope we can find. Because – one way or another – change is coming. On the one hand, we have the very real and growing threat of climate change…we have a shifting global economy in which competitor nations like China, Brazil, and Germany are outpacing us in the race for clean energy…and we have an increased dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy. On the other hand is a change in the way we produce, deliver and use energy in America. A change that requires investment in the many billions of dollars – not the least of which will go towards critical updates in the fleet of coal plants that now supply our energy. It will require careful economic planning to protect consumers… as well as creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship to make our vision into a reality. We can either act, and bring change to the world and new jobs to America, or sit back and watch as the world brings change to us and employment continues to move abroad.

I am here today not to unveil anything new or make any news, but to speak directly to you, and find common ground for working together. I want this to be the beginning of a productive relationship. To paraphrase your namesake Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it looks like work.” I believe the year ahead presents important opportunities for all of us. But to seize our opportunities, we have work to do.

Because we have so much to do together, let me take a moment to tell you about where I come from, and some of the things I have seen – in my life, and in two decades of working in environmental protection – that inform the work that I do.

I grew up in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, and started elementary school shortly after segregation ended. In college at Tulane, I majored in chemical engineering, and I planned to work for Shell oil. But then the job market crashed in the early 80s as a result of OPEC.

I also found that, as I got older, I felt pulled to public service. That came from my father. My father worked for the Postal Service in New Orleans. He was, like me, a government employee. He was, like me, someone working to support a family. But he was also – like I strive to be – a person on the front line serving his community. My father knew the people on his route. He used to ring the bell when your Social Security check came in, just to make sure it got in your hands. He was a trusted part of his community, and I’ve often thought about him as we work to rebuild confidence in our work at EPA.

As you know, in past years many Americans had cause to wonder whether decisions made at EPA were guided by science and the law, or whether those principles had been trumped by politics. 2009 was spent rebuilding public confidence, and showing that our path is determined only by the best science and the rule of law.

After Tulane, I got my Masters degree in chemical engineering from Princeton, where I wrote my thesis on wastewater. That was right around the time of Love Canal – the neighborhood in New York where they found 20,000 tons of toxic waste illegally buried underneath people’s homes. I saw news about communities suffering from environmental challenges – and stepping in to help those communities was the EPA. It’s no accident that my first EPA job was in the Superfund hazardous waste cleanup program.

For the next 15 years, I worked with EPA – on the ground, with those communities and the people in them. I saw how federal action took shape under three Presidents and six administrators. And I watched as the issues evolved. In 2002 I joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. And in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit.

My mother was still living in the 9th Ward when the storm came. I happened to be visiting for her birthday, and ended up driving her to safety. Like so many others, my mother lost everything she had. In the face of that tragedy, I almost left public service. I was disheartened by the lack of preparation; by the lack of protection; and by a delayed response that cost people their lives. But there was something that drew me back.

After Katrina, we learned that the devastation and flooding were so bad because marshes and wetlands – the area’s natural defenses – had been destabilized and cut away for oil and gas lines. My mother can now make as compelling an argument as any wetlands expert I’ve met about the need to protect and preserve wetlands. And watching that transformation has been an awakening for me – about how environmentalism grows. I saw an urgent need to broaden the conversation. That was a focus for me when I took the job as Commissioner at the New Jersey DEP the next year. It was an issue I raised when President-elect Obama appointed me to his transition team. And it’s a priority now at EPA. As the first African-American to lead the EPA, under the first African-American President, I feel a special obligation to change the face of environmentalism. We have begun the process of changing the face of environmentalism, but we have to continue to make room for new and different kinds of environmentalists.

That also includes rising above partisanship. All too often it can feel like the poles of our debate are growing at the same rate the poles on our planet are shrinking. But protecting human health or confronting climate change should not be the issue of one party or the other. Historically, environmentalism has been bipartisan. The National Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Protection Agency all began under President Nixon. I get as many letters and requests for urgent action from red states as I do from blue states. I meet people from all over the country and from the full spectrum of political perspectives. And I find, much more often than not, that a spirit of collaboration and cooperation leads to better solutions than we can ever get out of one side talking over the other. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad to share this stage with Senator Graham, who has some excellent ideas of his own when it comes to clean energy and climate protection. I look forward to working with him as the Senate continues to shape clean energy and climate legislation for our future.

My perspective is also shaped by being a mother of two teenage sons. In every action I take, I am acting not just as EPA Administrator but also as a mother. I never lose sight of the fact that protecting children’s health is EPA’s top priority. That means we take aggressive steps when we see areas where our kids are especially vulnerable. It also means that we won’t leave long-term challenges like climate change for the next generation to solve.

My experience as a parent affords me another important perspective as well: that of the active American consumer. The parents here will understand that the last thing I want to do is drive up the cost of the products we buy, raise my electricity bill, or position the EPA and the debate on climate change as an obstacle to our national prosperity.

These are some of the things that have informed my career, and my first year as Administrator of the EPA. Let me use the time I have left to talk about what we have planned for this, my second year at EPA. Again, I’m not making any news today. I’m here to describe ongoing EPA work that affects your industry and that will reach important milestones in 2010.

I know that this is not an easy time for you to plan for the future. Investments in new and modified power plants, in particular coal-fired power plants, are facing legal challenges across the United States. At the same time, EPA has plans for rules that will affect your sector. Many of those rulemakings are do-overs of rulemakings that were found, by the courts and others, to be legally and scientifically deficient. On some of them, we are going to find disagreements. But on all of them, I am committed to working with you to find realistic, common sense solutions.

In April, EPA will propose a new Clean Air Interstate Rule, or CAIR, to address air pollution that crosses state lines. The original CAIR Rule was vacated by the Courts over concerns that it failed in its stated goal – to limit the transport of pollutants from upwind states into downwind states. While the Courts sent CAIR Phase 1 back to EPA rather than vacate the entire rule, it was clear that we are on a short timetable to get a new rule in place. Facility upgrades many of you have already put in place in response to CAIR phase 1 are an excellent start. Those investments will not have been made in vain. In fact, we believe the controls already installed and under construction pave the way for a new transport rule that will be cost-effective, achieve the necessary reductions in air pollution transport, and encourage smart market investments.

Later this year EPA will also propose a new Utility Maximum Available Control Technology Rule, which will include efforts on mercury. Many of you have already received information requests on toxic emissions from your facilities. Collaboration from you will help us shape the rule, provide clarity, and scale up the success stories we hear into something sector-wide. Working together will set a strong foundation for achieving the reductions that a new MACT Rule will require.

Just today, we announced a proposed change in the ozone standard – one that more clearly reflects the best science and offers the kind of protection the Clean Air Act demands. This is an effort to remove dangerous pollution from the air we breathe, and the air our children breathe. Ozone is a public health threat that is extraordinarily costly from both a fiscal and a quality of life standpoint. My 13 year old son has struggled with asthma all his life. Even though his lungs are stronger, there are still days – when it’s hot out and ozone levels are high – when we have to be very careful. Cities like Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix are under blankets of smog. Today’s action will help restore the scientific basis for reducing that pollution, and allow us to address those very serious health threats. The good news is that work already underway at your facilities will represent a significant contribution to achieving that new standard.

As you also know, we plan to make a decision soon on coal ash. None of us has forgotten what happened one year ago in Kingston, Tennessee – more than a billion gallons of coal ash covering 300 acres of land, displacing families, and doing untold amounts of environmental damage. TVA estimates for the clean-up are over $1 billion, a figure that does not include long-term cleanup costs or potential liabilities for property damage. The spill also raised significant public outcry about the safety of both coal ash and the way your industry disposes of it. Our first priority is to ensure that all impoundments do not pose an imminent risk. We’ve already taken steps in that direction with a nationwide impoundment assessment program. But we must also decide how coal combustion residuals should be managed on a long-term basis to protect human health and the environment.

Though I can’t tell you what our proposed rule will be, I can say that we intend to protect groundwater and drinking water from contamination from arsenic and other contaminants that threaten human health. And we intend to put safeguards in place to prevent impoundment failures like the TVA tragedy. I know you share our goal of managing coal combustion residuals safely – and recognize that the status quo is unacceptable. I hope you agree that a strong federal presence is needed to provide accountability and backstop the states. We’ve heard concerns that EPA’s rule will discourage the beneficial use of coal ash in cement, wallboard and other applications. Let me be clear that we recognize the environmental benefits and economic value of most forms of reuse. This is another example of the common ground we share. If we can re-purpose those materials, leaving less of them in containment ponds and putting more of them to use in profitable ways, we absolutely want to do that. I believe we can craft a rule that preserves and encourages those beneficial uses which are safe while achieving our other important objectives. Once a rule is proposed, I ask that you come to the table and help us determine the best ways to move forward.


In the year ahead, we will also build on the significant actions already taken on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. As I mentioned earlier, we proposed a Tailoring Rule to exempt small businesses and consumers from GHG actions. We expect to finalize that rule in the coming months. To ensure smooth implementation, and provide the clarity you need, we will be issuing Best Available Control Technology guidance to the states. In fact, that guidance is currently under development with input from many of you here in this room. We want to take the guesswork out of GHG permitting and compliance, so that you can be certain of what the future holds.

Overall, we are seeking meaningful, common-sense steps towards a clean energy industry that creates good jobs in the United States. Working together will allow us to reduce pollution for better health, drive technology innovation for a better economy, and protect the environment for a better future – all without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the better part of our economy. The results will be a cleaner, more efficient power sector, and affordable, reliable electricity that carries a significantly smaller environmental footprint.

It means a growing clean energy economy that makes the most of American innovation and entrepreneurship. It means a clearer vision of the future, and a clear field for making the investments that will best serve that vision. And it means we have come together to build a foundation for the next steps for your industry.

There is no better time for us to be working together to define the pathway to a clean energy future. If we do this right, the way forward can be not only clearer or less expensive – I believe it can be profitable. You can plan an investment strategy that isn't just about meeting the requirements of the next regulation – but about stepping into and capitalizing on a clean energy future. Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you.