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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks on Green Infrastructure in Philadelphia, PA, As Prepared

04/21/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

Thank you for having me here today. Let me wish everyone a happy almost Earth Day, and I hope you all have big plans to celebrate and get involved tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the 41st Earth Day. We’ve come a long way since the first one in 1969. Those were days when rivers and streams were often covered in industrial pollution and sewage, and drinking water systems had limited knowledge of what was in the water, much less how to keep it clean.

Thanks to advances in science, and laws like the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and the work of communities like this one, our waters are much cleaner today than they were 40 years ago. But there is still plenty of work to be done. Today our waters face new challenges: Pollution like stormwater runoff that lacks any single source…fertilizer and pesticides that run off suburban lawns, as well as the contaminants that move from urban streets to local waterways when it rains. We also see shrinking state and city budgets being stretched to maintain water infrastructure that’s working harder than ever before. Today there are 80 million more people relying on our nation’s waters than there were just 30 years ago.

Meeting these challenges is a concern for all of us here today. It’s also a major concern for the American people. In a recent Gallup poll asking what environmental problems Americans worry about the most, 3 out of every 4 listed water issues – from pollution in our rivers, lakes, reservoirs and drinking water to the maintenance of our nation's fresh water supply.

Spending the money to install sewage treatment equipment or fixing leaking pipes might help solve some of our more immediate problems. But the old way of protecting our waters won’t efficiently answer the many new challenges we face today. So we at EPA have spent a lot of time working to find new strategies for dealing with these new challenges. And one of the most promising new strategies is Green Infrastructure. Instead of investing in one project that treats one concern, green Infrastructure takes a different approach – working with nature to provide solutions to many challenges at the same time.

Think about stormwater. The old way of business has been to treat it as wastewater that’s stored and treated – something that’s very costly to cities and towns on a budget. Green Infrastructure manages stormwater by treating it like the great resource it is. Using rain gardens, rain barrels, trees, plants, materials and landscaping changes – in other words, more green spaces that beautify communities – we can filter stormwater without having to expand or rebuild traditional water infrastructure.

Developing our communities in a sustainable way can protect against the flooding that causes nearly $2 billion in property damages each year. In addition to being a more cost-effective approach to water protection, green infrastructure investments make our communities cleaner and healthier. It helps make them more attractive places to live in and start a business. One of the signature elements of Green Infrastructure – green roofs – is also a great way to cut energy use and save money. We’ve seen green roofs reduce a building's energy costs by about 15 percent.

You’ve already seen some of these results in your city. The green infrastructure changes you’ve made since 2006 have saved the city about $170 million – and that doesn’t count the money saved from infrastructure upkeep and the money gained from a more revitalized community.

We are here today because we want to bring these kinds of benefits to cities and towns across the nation. We want to build on the successes of cities like Philadelphia, and put these methods to work in urban and suburban and rural communities that can make the most of the health, environmental and economic benefits of Green Infrastructure. We want to use the win-win strategies we see here to make every community healthier, more prosperous and more sustainable. Thank you.