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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the National Congress of American Indians Executive Council, As Prepared

03/06/2012
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As prepared for delivery.

I am glad to be here once again with you for another NCAI. I’ve worked closely with tribal leaders throughout my career – from my time working at the regional level and at the state level in New Jersey, to the interactions I’ve had with many of you as administrator of the EPA.

So I’ve seen again and again how tribal governments play a vital role when it comes to protecting health and the environment – and I know what kind of impact that work has on another major priority for all of us: tribal economies and prosperity.

So I’d like to talk about the leadership you’ve shown in those areas, and some of the initiatives we’re undertaking at EPA.

As I said, I know that you are concerned about what every community is concerned about – how to get your local economies running. During my first year as administrator, I attended a meeting where a tribal leader stood up and explained to me that his community was facing 50 percent unemployment.

So we want to make sure you have what you need to build and rebuild your economies. Tribes like the Spokane have been working aggressively in their regions to promote economic development programs. And tribes from Maine to Alaska are becoming drivers for a green economy.

They’re pursuing energy efficiency programs – saving people money on energy bills and supporting green jobs in their local communities.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash in California has a community energy efficiency program dedicated to developing renewable energy projects. Through the program, they’re also conducting job training and supporting green jobs for tribal members and the broader community.

At EPA, we’re excited to see these projects that show how economic growth and environmental protection efforts work hand-in-hand.

Let me also commend the leadership you’ve taken in environmental protection and natural resource management.

We’ve seen tribes restoring fish populations in Maine, the Great Lakes and the Pacific Northwest, by removing dams and by reintroducing native fish. Other tribes are setting environmental standards that are, in many cases, more protective than state or federal standards. And we’ve seen organizations like the National Geographic Society applauding tribes for their natural resource management efforts.

We value your expertise at EPA. And we’re working to incorporate more tribal ecological knowledge into federal environmental efforts.

In Alaska, for example, we’re taking your thoughts into consideration regarding the permits on industrial activity during subsistence activities. We are holding a meeting with regional tribal leaders in a few months, and traditional ecological knowledge will be a major focus of that discussion.

President Obama has made it clear that he is committed to strengthening this administration’s ties to tribal governments – and I share that commitment. Many of you may know that strengthening our partnerships is one of the stated priorities of EPA under my tenure.

Last year, the agency finalized the transition of the American Indian Environmental Office to the Office of International and Tribal Affairs. We believe that putting our tribal and international programs under one umbrella – and placing our relationships with tribal nations in the same organizational structure as our relationships with nations around the globe – will help us better serve your needs.

The new leader of our American Indian work, JoAnn Chase, has extensive experience on these issues, including her time as executive director here at NCAI. So we’re better suited than ever to build on the work that’s been done.

Honoring our government-to-government relationship is an important part of that process.

Our policy at EPA – which was finalized last year – goes well beyond what the Executive Order on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribes requires. We use a broad standard for determining which of our activities are appropriate for tribal consultation: In the first Agency-wide review of the policy, more than 100 different activities were identified as being appropriate for consultation.

We’ve also developed a new Tribal Consultation Opportunities Tracking System – or TCOTS – which includes information about ongoing and newly planned consultations. That database is updated regularly. Most recently, we added consultation opportunities on our climate change adaptation plan and our National Program Managers Guidance.

I encourage you to check back often and give us your thoughts on EPA activities that may affect the interests of your communities.

We also know that tribal programs – like all programs – need adequate funding if they’re going to be successful. That’s why maintaining a suitable level of funding for these initiatives is also important to EPA and the Obama Administration.

In recent years, we’ve been able to maintain level funding for the General Assistance Program that provides capacity building support for tribal environmental programs.

I’m happy to report that the President’s proposed budget for FY 2013 includes an increase of about $30 million in GAP funding.

We know that GAP grants are the cornerstone of federal support for tribal implementation of environmental programs. Together, I think we’ve made great progress in building the capacity needed to develop, manage and execute these programs.

In an effort to strengthen this work, we’re in the process of developing new GAP grant guidance. Our goal is to establish a more consistent mechanism for tracking and reporting on our tribal program progress.

I understand that your environmental program managers have provided us with many thoughtful and constructive comments in the first phase of tribal consultation on the guidance. I want to thank you for your participation in the process. I assure you that we’ll be using your input to improve the document, and we’ll share the revised guidance for another round of tribal review.

The final program I’d like to highlight this morning is our new Tribal ecoAmbassador Program. This is something I’m personally very excited about. We’re midway through the pilot year, and already we’re seeing real, on-the-ground results.

As you know, we created this program to provide funding and technical support to tribal colleges and universities so they can work with their students to address challenges in their communities. This year, we’ve been able to support eight TCU professors – or Ambassadors, as we’re calling them.

Let me close with two examples of how the ecoAmbassador initiative is already leading to substantial results.

The first is the work being done at Tohono O’odham Community College in Arizona. Professors and students are using old glass bottles in combination with adobe to make building materials.

Along with cutting waste, this is helping them create carbon-negative buildings on campus. The goal is to use this material for future reservation construction. And there are widespread benefits.

It reduces the costs of shipping 50 tons of waste glass – at $32 a ton – 65 miles away to Tucson every month for recycling. It also reduces the need for new building materials. On top of that, the project will give an economic boost to the community by supporting jobs and much needed housing – and by providing a sustainable, community oriented business model.

And from an environmental standpoint, the innovative building materials have iron minerals that bind with aggregates to capture carbon pollution.

The second example is the success the Ambassador program is having at Dine College in New Mexico.

A professor at Dine designed a program where students wear personal air monitors over the course of several weeks to help track air pollution in their immediate environment.

The data these monitors capture is uploaded to a research database. The students can then present the findings to their communities to raise awareness on indoor and outdoor air pollution.

These are just two examples of the excellent work our ecoAmbassadors are doing in tribal academic communities across the country, and I look forward to the results that are sure to come as the program matures.

As EPA administrator, it is a great privilege to work directly with tribal leadership. I know what a difference it can make just to be able to understand where our goals overlap and how we can collaborate to achieve them.

Thank you very much for being such active partners for EPA. I look forward to continuing to strengthen our relationship and working together to protect the human health, the economy and the environment.

Thank you again for the opportunity to join you today.