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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the White House Clean Energy Forum on Public Health, As Prepared

11/20/2009
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As prepared for delivery.

Thank you all so much for being here. I know a lot of you have traveled long distances to be here and we are glad to have you with us. We are here to reinforce and expand on a very important idea. Environmental protection and energy reform are not just important for stopping climate change and creating clean energy jobs: they are also critical elements in protecting the health of our communities. I would even say that reducing harmful pollution in our communities is reason enough to reform the ways that we harness and use energy in America – but there are a couple of other good ones too.

Protecting our health is at the root of our work at EPA and in the environmental community. When the environmental movement really got its start in the 1960s, began with people concerned about pollution in the air they were breathing, the water they were drinking, and the chemicals on the foods they were eating. Environmentalism started because of concerns about public health. And today those issues are equally still a definitive part of what we do.

Today we see cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illness – three of the top four deadliest diseases in the US, responsible for more than half of all deaths – and all three have links to environmental causes.

We see scientific studies that smog, mercury and other pollution can lead to developmental disorders and premature birth. We read reports about babies being exposed to hundreds of different chemicals before they are born. Chemicals from pesticides, fast food packaging, coal and gasoline emissions, and trash incineration. We put them into the air, or the water or the land, and they end up in our bodies. And they effect the most vulnerable among us. We see 23 million people in the United States suffering from asthma, including almost 1 in every 10 kids – making environmentalism a critical children's health issue.

One of those children is my 13-year-old son Brian. Brian has fought with asthma his entire life. His first Christmas was spent in the hospital, unable to breathe. All his life we have had to be careful when it gets too hot outside, and the ozone levels rise, or when other environmental triggers are present. My family can't take for granted that Brian's going to be able to breathe easy. I still pop up at night when I hear him stirring, and expect to hear the cough. So I come to this issue not just as EPA Administrator, but also as a mother.

And, finally, we see truly devastating effects on some of our most vulnerable populations. The poor and minority communities that bear the burden of environmental degradation face disproportionate health effects. African Americans die from asthma twice as often as whites, and have higher cancer mortality rates than any other group. Or the nearly 30 million Latinos – 72 percent of the US Latino population – who live in places that don’t meet US air pollution standards.

Right now we have an unprecedented opportunity to get America running on clean energy and significantly reduce the pollution in our air, land and water that lead to these enormous health challenges. And in these last 10 months, we have done more for clean energy in this country than has been done in the last 10 years.

President Obama has pledged to double our use of renewable energy in the next three years, and cut carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by mid-century. He has challenged Federal agencies to lead by example, and initiated the GreenGov program to ask 1.8 million federal workers and men and women in uniform about opportunities they see to make government more sustainable. And he has put clean energy and energy efficiency at the center of our Recovery Act. In building a new foundation for prosperity, we’re betting on American entrepreneurs, American innovators, and American workers to lead the world in the race for clean energy.

One of EPA’s primary Recovery investments has been in clean diesel retrofits on school buses, highway vehicles, locomotive diesel engines, and others. We estimate that for every dollar invested in Clean Diesel, we get $13 in public health benefits. And the Recovery Act is just one piece of the pie.

Since September 1st EPA has announced a program with the Department of Transportation to increase fuel efficiency and decrease harmful emissions from American-made vehicles. We finalized a rule to track greenhouse emissions 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. That rule will allow us to do what the Clean Air Act does best – reduce emissions 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. And just last week – after years of waiting – we sent our final endangerment finding up to the White House.

All of these efforts – of course – accompany a strong push to get a clean energy and climate bill through Congress and onto the President’s desk. The benefits of that will not only be a declining cap on carbon emissions, but an established investment environment for clean energy. Win-win changes for our health and environment – like installing co-generation units at a manufacturing plant or mass transit expansions – require large up-front investments. An established program of reforms and incentives can help the market get to work – making clean energy the profitable kind of energy, and setting us on course towards the health and environmental improvements we need.

Today’s break-out sessions are designed to spotlight particular types of energy efficiency and clean energy changes that would reduce the air, water, and soil contamination that affect our health. We hope for some good discussions today. But we also hope that – in the days and weeks ahead – you will come back to us with ideas and opportunities from your communities. This should be the beginning of our work together.

As we engage in historic debates about the future of our health, our energy and our environment, we have to send the clear message that there are links between clean energy and a clean bill of public health. We should be talking about how much we pay at the pump. And we should absolutely be talking about the future of our planet. But our discussion would be incomplete without also talking about a little boy with asthma who can’t go outside and play on a summer afternoon…or an urban business owner who has to pay higher health care premiums because her workers get sick more often…or a pregnant mother who is breathing in dangerous smog every day.

Energy reform and environmental protection can be an “ounce of prevention” that makes a huge difference in our public health future. And I thank you for being here today to help us send that message.