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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the Women’s National Democratic Club, As Prepared

01/14/2010
As prepared for delivery.

It is wonderful to be with you today. This group has played a strong role not only in the history of women’s rights and empowerment, but in the history of America. Thank you for carrying the torch today.

I work in a field that has benefitted greatly from the groundbreaking work of amazing women. In the 1930s, a woman named Rosalie Edge took on the established notions of environmental conservation. Her work taught the nation on the importance of preservation and environmental protection. She did that at a time when it was not expected that women would raise their voices on these issues. It was by standing on the shoulders of women like Rosalie Edge that others like Sylvia Earle, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Jane Goodall were able to emerge as leading advocates for protecting our health and our environment. And of course, Rachel Carson – who has a room named in her honor at EPA’s headquarters – was a transformative figure. Silent Spring changed environmentalism forever. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that her book was published in the early 60s, and by 1970 we had a federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Obviously, these women played an important role in my own life. I started at the EPA a little over twenty years ago, working as a staff level engineer. It was a time when you didn’t see very many women going to school in those fields and working in those roles. When I began studying chemical engineering in college, I was one of very few women.

That was an extra shock for me because my high school was an all-girls school. I moved from classrooms with no men to an entire field of study that was – and still is – almost entirely men. When I went to Princeton for my Masters I was one of only two women in my graduating class.

I felt, as many women often do, a call to service, a call to issues of health, to using my technical degree to make a difference in the world around me. At the EPA, I worked my way up the ranks. And in the time it took me to get from there to here, I witnessed first-hand the changes that took place and the doors that opened – not just to me but to all women. Year after year, through the ongoing struggles for basic rights, respect, and equality, the women of this country have taken on more and more leadership in the great challenges of our time. I don’t just mean the women who made it into the history books. I owe more than I can say to mothers and grandmothers, female scientists and engineers, women business and education leaders and so many others.

A great example of that – and something very dear to my heart as a native of New Orleans – came after Hurricane Katrina. Some of the most vocal advocates for rebuilding and reform have been the women of the city. Especially women from the poorest neighborhoods, who lost everything in the storm and have had to struggle just to get recognition of their situation. That is the kind of strength that cannot be underestimated.

It’s why I’m able to be with you here today. It’s why I have the chance to work with the many amazing women cabinet members and the growing number of women leading the way in Congress. And it’s why I’m very hopeful about our future.

You have asked me here today to talk about the changes we’ve made at EPA. Over the course of the last 12 months, we have worked to show the American people something very different from what they saw in the last few years. But the fact is that the only real change is a change in direction.

When I arrived on my first day almost one year ago, there were 18,000 dedicated EPA employees ready to turn the agency around and get back on the job. Through their hard work, 2009 was a year in which we made history. Not only have we made history – which is fun to talk about – but more importantly, we made a difference in the lives of millions of people.

We reaffirmed the core mission and values of EPA, and showed the American public that science, transparency and the law are paramount in protecting human health and the environment. We invested billions of dollars through the Recovery Act, creating good, green jobs and great opportunities for families struggling in these challenging economic times. We put forward new principles to address the safety of chemicals in our products, our environment, and our bodies – answering a call to action that has gone on for decades. Our proposed clean cars program represents the first-ever mandatory reduction of greenhouse gases in American history. After years of wrangling between states and automakers, we were able to bring everyone to the table and propose a groundbreaking rule to cut fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse emissions. We put in place a world-leading, nationwide greenhouse gas emissions reporting system, and set the stage to reduce emissions through improved technology at our largest greenhouse sources. And in a long, long overdue step forward, we announced an Endangerment Finding on greenhouse gases. And when we sent it to the White House, they actually opened the email.

These are just a few of our accomplishments. Any list from 2009 is going to leave off a number of major improvements. This is the change in direction I am talking about. As groundbreaking as any one action might be, these are actions that should rightfully be expected of an agency entrusted to protect our health and our environment.

The last year has been much more about affirming what makes EPA valuable to the American people than it was about changing anything. And that is what we plan to continue in 2010 and beyond.

Earlier this week, I outlined seven priorities to build on the work of 2009, and focus our efforts in the years ahead. I’d like to use the time we have left today to talk about those.

Let me say at the outset that these priorities are of equal importance, and each highlights a critical piece of our shared mission.

The first is Taking Action on Climate Change. By continuing the work we began in 2009, we can continue to reduce greenhouse gases, assure compliance with the law, and help transition our economy to a more sustainable way of doing business. We have the opportunity to expand money-saving efficiency programs like Energy Star. We can support a growing clean energy industry to reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our economy and our national security. And we will continue to work with Congress on a strong clean energy and climate bill.

Next is Improving Air Quality. Pollution in the air we breathe is a critical environmental and public health concern. Last week, we announced stronger standards for ground level ozone –the main ingredient in smog. That measure that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier. Building on that, we plan to improve monitoring, permitting and enforcement as a foundation for reducing harmful air toxics and tightening standards on dangerous pollution. Put simply, cleaner air means a cleaner bill of health. That means lower costs, fewer missed work and school days, and a better chance for children and others who are especially vulnerable to pollution in the air we breathe.

Next, we will focus on Assuring the Safety of Chemicals. Every few weeks, there is a new story about potential risks from chemicals: Bisphenol A, or BPA – a chemical that can affect brain development and has been linked to obesity and cancer – is in baby bottles; phthalate esters – which have been said to affect reproductive development – are in our medical devices. We see lead in toys, dioxins in fish, and the list goes on. EPA has an opportunity to make significant and long-overdue progress in assuring the safety of chemicals that are ubiquitous in our products, and in our environment, and in our bodies. As I said, last year I announced principles for modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, and released our first-ever chemical management plans for four groups of substances. This year, we will accelerate EPA’s work on chemicals of concern and increase public awareness through our Integrated Risk Information System – or IRIS – and our Toxics Release Inventory. And we will show strong support for reforming our nation’s chemical laws. We want them to keep pace with the chemical industry, and keep us and our children safe.

Another priority is cleaning up Our Communities. Using all the tools at our disposal, including enforcement and compliance efforts, we will continue to work towards safer, healthier communities. Revitalizing community-based programs like Superfund and Brownfields can help get toxic contamination out of communities, and help put new green jobs in. We will work to enhance local Smart Growth efforts to help more communities become environmentally sustainable and economically resilient. And we will step up as needed to assist local areas facing exceptional environmental challenges and health threats.

Next, we will focus on Protecting America’s Waters. Water quality can have profound human health impacts, and an abundant supply of clean water is critical to a community’s economic growth. Water issues take many shapes. Last week I was in Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix has struggled for years to supply enough water to build homes and add businesses. That is different from the challenges facing communities in New Orleans. They have an abundant flow of water, but it often brings with it agricultural pesticides, industrial waste, stormwater runoff and other harmful pollution. Those are just two of many hundreds of unique issues across the country demanding both traditional measures and innovative strategies. We have a range of both to set in motion – from Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes restoration, to addressing post-construction, agricultural and stormwater runoff, to better protecting drinking water supplies. The Recovery Act has put billions into improving water infrastructure, which helps create good green jobs, and prepares those communities for continued growth. We will also revamp enforcement strategies to achieve greater compliance with water laws across the board.

Next, we will focus on Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice. 2009 was a new era of outreach and protection for communities that are historically underrepresented in our decision-making. We are building and rebuilding relationships with tribes, communities of color, young people, and economically distressed cities, towns and rural areas. Voices from these communities need to be part of our conversation and have a place at the decision making table. Because all too often, these are the communities bearing the greater burden of environmental degradation. EPA must and will make environmental justice a consideration in all of our actions. I also urge the WNDC to bring vision and creativity to this challenge as you take up environmental issues.

And last but certainly not least, we will continue Building Strong State and Tribal Partnerships. Having worked at the state level, I know that states and tribal governments bear primary responsibility for day-to-day environmental protection. I also know that fiscal challenges are pressuring state agencies and tribal governments to do more with less. Strong partnerships and accountability are more essential than ever. EPA will do its part to support state and tribal capacity and, through strengthened oversight, ensure that quality programs are delivered nationwide.

These are the priorities that will guide our work in 2010 and the years ahead:

Fighting Climate Change;
Improving Air Quality;
Assuring Chemical Safety;
Cleaning Up Our Communities;
Protecting America’s Waters;
Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism;
And Building Strong State and Tribal Partnerships

These priorities are built around the challenges and opportunities inherent in our mission to protect human health and the environment. I have confidence in our ability to meet every challenge, and seize every opportunity.

In 2010, EPA marks its 40th year in existence. It is my expectation that the people watching us – and watching for change – will see an EPA performing at the highest level of effectiveness in its 40 year history. The change I want to see is stronger protection of our health and our environment – and I believe we are on our way. Thank you very much.