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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the White House Clean Energy Forum With Youth Leaders, As Prepared

12/02/2009
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As prepared for delivery.

Since I started this job I’ve been to wind farms; I’ve spoken with scientists about solar panels; and I’ve traveled overseas to meet with officials from other nations. But one of the most interesting and innovative clean energy projects I’ve seen was being done by high school students.

Earlier this year I visited West Philadelphia High School where a student group is building a hybrid car. The vast majority of the students at West Philly are minorities. Many of them come from the poor, disadvantaged, under served neighborhoods around the school. And from this place where no one would have expected it, they are doing something extraordinary.

The hybrid car they’re building has outperformed others built by teams at the most advanced universities and the best-funded private companies around the world. High school students from the inner city are taking their car to compete against other hybrid vehicles from around the world in the Progressive Automotive X Prize. If they win – and a lot of people think they have a good shot – they take home $10 million.

That is an amazing story. And it’s not the only one. That’s because this is the first generation that is taking action, in earnest, on climate change and clean energy. It’s the first generation whose cars are likely to run on electricity. It’s the first generation whose homes will be connected to a smart grid, and get energy from wind turbines. It’s the first generation that is graduating college and looking for green jobs. And you are the first generation that has demanded that we stop the damage greenhouse gases are doing to your world.

In response to that, we have acted. Recently EPA and the Department of Transportation announced a program to increase fuel efficiency and decrease harmful emissions from American-made vehicles.

We finalized a rule to track greenhouse gases from the nation’s largest sources – and proposed a new rule to use the Clean Air Act to cut emissions from large sources by raising the standards for innovative clean technology on those facilities.

To give you a sense of how much things have changed: I announced that proposed rule at the Governors’ Climate Summit in California. The summit was hosted by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and one of the speakers was Harrison Ford. Today, these are two leaders in our fight for a cleaner environment. But when I was your age they were The Terminator and Han Solo. I was up on stage wondering if I was going to be the only one without my own action figure. So believe me: things have changed – and they will keep on changing.

Finally, EPA has submitted to the White House the long awaited endangerment finding on CO2.

All of these efforts accompany billions of dollars for clean energy jobs in the Recovery Act, and a strong push to get a clean energy and climate bill through Congress and onto the President’s desk.

This is the first generation to make all that possible. That’s why we’ve asked you to join us for a conversation today.

Let me close with a word about the students at West Philly High. They are an important example not just because they are young, but because they are not what you might think of as quote-unquote, “environmentalists.” They are part of another important change we’re seeing in your generation – a change to the environmental movement itself.

To keep the momentum growing behind clean energy and climate action, we must expand the conversation on environmentalism, and open it up to new kinds of environmentalists. These are people who might not label themselves environmentalists. But their lives are touched by environmental issues. They come from communities that haven’t always been a part of this conversation – communities like West Philly, the 9th Ward of New Orleans, or Southeast DC. These are the neighborhoods that are extremely vulnerable to environmental and economic challenges. They stand to benefit the most from green jobs, lower energy bills, and cleaner air. And they can be a powerful force in this debate.

As the young leaders of the environmental movement, I challenge you to continue to expand the conversation and welcome those voices. Make sure that every community can be part of the unprecedented changes being made by this generation. Thank you again for being here and I look forward to our discussion.