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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the Local Government Advisory Committee, As Prepared

03/24/2009
As prepared for delivery.

This is one of the most important places to have a discussion about the environmental issues we face.

The work that we do at EPA – in Washington and at each of our regional offices – is brought to life at the local level.

I know because I have seen it first-hand.

I started my career at the EPA as a staff level scientist in the late 80s and worked with the agency for 16 years.

Of those 16 years, 13 of them were at the regional level. I then served as the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

In that time, I worked up-close on the issues you face at the local level.

It was a great education on exactly how vital the coordination between EPA and state and local governments can be.

Even without the benefit of that experience, I can look to some of the successes we’ve had over the years to see what this collaboration means.

Take, for example, the Energy Star program. In 2008 alone, we saved more than $1 billion in utility bills and cut more than 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air.

To show a little hometown pride – and offer my praise to our local DC officials: the DC-metro area is right now using the Energy Star program to save more than $42 million each year in lower energy bills, and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 30,000 homes.

It’s easy to see – from this and so much else – that for the work we have ahead of us, clear communication and close partnerships cannot be undervalued.

This is a time when our partnerships need to be stronger than ever.

We are meeting today at a crossroads in our country’s history.

As a nation, we face the most serious economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Every American is anxious about what that means – not just for their future but for the next generation as well. I certainly don’t have to remind any of you who see that every single day.

I can reassure you that we are all working around the clock to get the economy moving again.

At the same time that we face this economic crisis, there isn’t a moment to lose in protecting the public health and confronting the rapid advance of climate change.

This is not an academic discussion anymore. We don’t have the luxury of a far-off day of reckoning.
The world’s leading scientists predict notable, if not drastic, changes within our lifetimes if we don’t get started right away.

Those changes pose very real threats to our economic stability. They jeopardize the public health. And they raise serious concerns about our national security.

For those reasons and more, we are embarking immediately on an aggressive environmental agenda.

The President has committed to double our clean energy use in the next three years. And we’ve set an ambitious goal of cutting more than 80% of harmful greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

Now, let me say: I am a mother of two young boys. The parents here know that makes me an active American consumer.

I also want my sons to go to college and get jobs when they get older.

So both the short- and long-term strength of the economy are not only professional, but personal concerns of mine.

I know what it’s like for people who are struggling to make ends meet, especially in these times.

The last thing EPA wants to do – and the last place we want to position the environmental movement or the climate change debate – is somehow standing in the way of the nation’s economic recovery.

Thankfully, we have in President Obama a leader who has denounced the false choice between a green economy and a green environment.

President Obama and many others have stood up to say that our economic future and our environmental future are inextricably linked. They, of course, are right.

When I was in New Jersey, I was fond of saying that every time I saw a plant with emissions controls, or a Superfund cleanup, those were good-paying jobs.

The same can be true all across the country. The way out of our economic challenges is through a clean energy transition, and the creation of millions of jobs in green sectors.

That is abundantly clear in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One newspaper wrote that standing alone, the clean energy measures in the stimulus plan represented “the biggest energy bill in history.”

For EPA, the stimulus means an investment of more than $7 billion in “shovel ready” projects that protect human health and safeguard the environment.

And it’s another point where our partnership is crucial.

The refurbished water infrastructure, cleanup of Brownfield and Superfund sites, projects to cut emissions in diesel engines, and repairs to leaking underground storage tanks will be in your cities and towns, employing your residents, and under your immediate supervision.

I can’t stress enough the importance of transparency and oversight of every single project.

The Congress and the American people have given us an incredible opportunity to steward these crucial investments.

But we also run the risk of damaging our mission irrevocably if we don’t honor the trust placed in us.
Along with the ARRA, the President also proposed in his first budget the highest level of funding support that EPA has seen in our 39 year history.

Let’s be clear: this all means that we have the highest level of expectation that we have seen in our 39 year history.

Right now, we have greater opportunities to protect public health and the environment than any other time in the history of the EPA.

Today in the congress and throughout the nation, there is tremendous, bipartisan support for green jobs, smart growth, clean energy, and the long list of ideas and innovations that will grow the economy and improve our planet.

So when I’ve spoken to reporters, industry leaders, community members, or other stakeholders, I’ve tried to send a very clear, consistent message. It’s one of the messages that I’m here to give you, and that I hope you will join with me in carrying it.

And it’s that EPA is back on the job.

We are once again guided by an ambitious vision of public health protection and environmental preservation.

And you are on the front lines of that work.

The drinking water and waste water management that goes on in every single one of your municipalities across the country falls under the purview of the EPA.

When a business wants to set up shop in your community, you are their first liaisons on compliance with public health and environmental standards.

And you see the immediate impacts of hazardous materials, ground-level ozone, waste disposal and more in your communities.

This means that we have tremendous opportunities to work together.

First and foremost, we can strengthen the work we already do. I will be looking to you for guidance and counsel on where we can do better or be more efficient.

One improvement we must make is in the expansion of environmental protection to every single community.

In many places, the burden of pollution and environmental degradation falls disproportionately on low-income and minority communities – and most often, on the children in those communities. That puts up one more barrier and many more expenses for some of our most vulnerable populations.

I won’t stand by and accept that disparity any longer. I see it as part of my mission to show all Americans that this EPA works for them.

Second, you can be incubators of innovation for the next phase of green job growth and environmental protection.

We’ve seen everything from traditional practices like recycling and industrial site remediation and redevelopment, all the way to zero-energy homes and green alleys, taking hold in cities, town, and counties across the nation.

I’m asking you to keep pushing. I’m daring you to out-green each other.

Any one of your localities could lead the way in clean energy, in implementing the smart grid technology the President has called for, and in growing the green jobs that will lead to our national economic recovery.

Third, you can be instrumental in focusing our work. You hear directly from local residents. You know when they are concerned about the safety of their drinking water, when they seek to protect a vital ecosystem, or when they want to make sure their children can breathe easy.

I need you to bring those voices to the table, and help us know where and when we should be taking action.

There are great things we can accomplish. We have the support we need in this critical moment, and it is up to us to make the most of it.

Your partnership – and your leadership – are absolutely essential to making sure we do all we can to protect the public health and preserve our environment, while we spark a robust economic recovery with green jobs and clean energy.

I’m look forward to working with all of you in the months and years ahead. Thank you again for inviting me.