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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Symposium to Strengthen Research and Policy on Environmental Justice, As Prepared

03/17/2010
As prepared for delivery.

Thank you all for being here today. I know many of you have traveled a long way to be here, and I’m happy to join my EPA colleagues in welcoming you.

Since day one, this administration has made clear that every decision we make will be guided by the best science. EPA itself has an extraordinary staff of researchers and scientists – second in size only to NASA. They give us the hard date we need to leverage good policies and build the strongest environmental initiatives. We also rely on the contributions of so many of you and your colleagues. The work we have done has put us at the forefront of environmental innovation – a crucial part of our most successful efforts to clean up our air, land and water. On my first day I told everyone at EPA that “science must be the backbone for EPA programs.” I’m happy to reaffirm that pledge today.

We are here today to talk about how we use the best science to fight for environmental justice. This has also been a defining issue for EPA. Since January of 2009, I have traveled the country and invited new voices into the conversation on environmental issues. I have worked to show individuals and communities – though they may not think of themselves as environmentalists – that environmental issues play a role in their health and welfare. And we have worked to shed light on the disproportionate environmental burden that too many poor, tribal and minority communities face today. One year later, and we are still at the beginning of our efforts.

Those of you who have been working and striving for environmental justice for decades – like my friend Peggy Shepard from WE ACT – know that change doesn’t come over night. It was 1990 when some of the earliest environmental justice advocates came together at the Conference on Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards. At that meeting they recommended that “racial and socioeconomic equity consideration be included in Regulatory Impact Assessments.” 20 years later we are still working to make that a reality today. That is why we are here right now. People living in environmental justice communities have fought for years to see change. We are here to put the science behind that knowledge, and lay the groundwork for new policies and new initiatives that will make environmental justice part of everyday environmental action in this country.

Earlier this year, I asked every staff member at EPA to make environmental justice part of every decision we make. I asked them for their creativity and innovation to ensure that our efforts reach every community. This meeting should give new hope to communities laboring under the burden of environmental degradation. They know it and they see it everyday. It’s time for us to step up and put the science behind those concerns. By using the best science, we can ensure that we’re not building our children’s schools in the shadows of polluters that make them miss day after day of class with asthma or other health problems.

We want to have the data in hand to show how the poor get sick more often because they live in neighborhoods where the air and water are polluted. We want to show that these are the same people who have to rely on emergency room visits for treatment – driving up health care costs for everyone.

When we talk about the economy, and the need for more jobs and small businesses in our urban centers and metropolitan regions, I want the studies that show how dirty air, pollution in the water, and contaminated lots in our neighborhoods can stifle economic growth or community revitalization efforts. Poison in the ground means poison in the economy. A weak environment means a weak consumer base. And unhealthy air means an unhealthy atmosphere for investments.

And – frankly – it doesn’t take a scientist to see that when economic possibilities are limited, other problems are compounded. Crime is higher, violence is higher – often times drugs use is rampant – and the vicious cycle continues. What have we taught young people to value, to aspire to, or take pride in when they see that their communities are unclean, unhealthy and unsafe – and that the people around them are unconcerned?

For those reasons and more, it has been my mission at EPA to broaden this conversation. I have gone to meetings across the country and met with people who are ready to get to work on these issues. Last year in Chicago, I met an elderly woman named Ms. Johnson. She had come all the way over from the South Side to talk to me about brownfields job training. She wanted to know what we were going to do and who we were going to hire from her neighborhood to do it. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, I met a man named Buddy who has become a one-man environmental protection agency for the low income and minority members of his community. He speaks for that community – and he speaks loud enough that he has become well-known around EPA headquarters in DC. When I was in New Orleans a few months ago, I met a man named Mr. Green who lived in the lower 9th Ward. Like my mother, Mr. Green lost his home when Katrina hit. Mr. Green’s house was being re-built as a green home in a sustainable neighborhood – one of many that are going up in New Orleans today. In our conversations, I had a chance to ask him if he thought of himself as an environmentalist. He answered, “Well – I wasn’t….But now I get it.”

These are voices that need to be part of our conversation. The real live issues that communities and tribal populations are facing need the strong foundations of sound science. They need the groups here – the health, science, EJ and tribal communities – to build stronger partnerships. Partnerships that capitalize on our strengths and have us all pulling in the same direction.

We’re going to expand this conversation by bringing in the best science. And then we’re going to follow where that science tells us to act. This is another step in an ongoing process – and an opportunity to bring multiple sets of skills, passions and resources together to confront this shared challenge. Thank you for being a part this unique and gathering. I hope you all have productive discussions today, and lay the groundwork for moving ahead tomorrow. Thank you very much.