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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Ceres Igniting Innovation, Scaling Sustainability Conference in Boston, MA, As Prepared

04/26/2012
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As prepared for delivery.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you close out this conference. Let me begin by commending Ceres for its extraordinary advocacy, for continuing to bring together so many important and influential people, and for the great work you’re doing today and have been doing for more than two decades.

We at the EPA have been glad to connect with your network in various ways in recent years – for example, we worked together to help the Securities and Exchange Commission develop its Interpretative Guidance on Climate Change. We have shared goals – and overlapping efforts – to expand access to companies’ environmental data so that investors and other stakeholders can understand potential risks and help drive better environmental performance. And your work to make sustainability part of the corporate DNA advances our shared interest in reduced carbon emissions, resource conservation, and healthy communities.

We were glad to have Ceres input as we began an extensive outreach effort to hear from stakeholders about recommendations the National Academy of Sciences made to EPA regarding sustainability. We would of course be pleased to hear any additional thoughts you might have, as we digest what we heard from our stakeholders, and decide how to proceed.

On a more personal note – I have been very happy to be able to cite your studies to support our mission at EPA as I talk to people in DC and around the nation. With the kinds of opposition and rhetoric we hear about the EPA these days – especially inside the beltway – it is great to be able to turn to business leaders who recognize the economic value of sustainability and environmental protection.

After all, throughout the Administration – no matter the agency or issue – we all recognize that the defining mission of our time in office is to strengthen the American economy. After the collapse of the economy in 2008, there was nothing more important than making sure businesses could get up and running, making sure families had as much help as they could get, and making sure that critical industries like the auto industry could stay afloat – not only because we wanted to sustain jobs in Detroit, but because we wanted to sustain the companies all along the supply chain, that make their revenue sending materials and components to auto makers.

But – much like all of you present here today – President Obama has called for more than just an increase in jobs when outlining an economic vision for the future of our country. What we are working for is – in short – an economy that is built to last. We must build and re-build a country and an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. We have come to “a make or break moment for the middle class and those trying to reach it.” What is at stake is the basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, and put a little away for retirement.

We are proud of the progress that has been made so far. The US has added a total of 4.1 million jobs over the last 25 months, American manufacturing is creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s, and the American auto industry is coming back – while developing fuel efficient vehicles to save drivers money and cut pollution from our skies.

What we can’t do is go back to an economy based on outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. What we can do is pursue every possible collaboration and partnership and innovation opportunity. What we can do is help mobilize our most promising job creators, and recognize that an economy that is “built to last” is going to be led by companies that specialize in – what else? – sustainability.

One of the earliest speeches I gave as Administrator was to the Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy – or BICEP – another great project to come out of Ceres, and certainly one of the better acronyms I’ve encountered in my time in Washington. I spoke then, as I have many times since, of how important it is that businesses and other influential players are part of the effort to protect human health and the environment.

Even though no credible economist links the economic crisis – or any economic crisis, for that matter – to clean-air and clean-water standards; and even though Americans have seen 200 percent growth in GDP over the 41 years of EPA’s existence, there is still a perception that we have to choose between our economy and our environment.

We have been working diligently in the last three years to change that perception.

That means utilizing markets to advance energy efficiency and clean energy – through programs like Energy Star, the Green Power Partnership, the Combined Heat and Power Partnership, and the Global Methane Initiative. The Energy Star program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has sold more than five billion products in the last two decades. We've also certified more than 1.3 million Energy Star houses and tens of thousands of buildings across the country. As a result, American families and businesses have saved a combined total of nearly $230 billion dollars on their utility bills with help from Energy Star, and prevented more than 1.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

It means building strong collaborations, like the interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability. Both of these efforts are built on bring together different sets of expertise and experience to serve common goals. And both are dedicated to building communities that are sustainable, innovative, health and prosperous.

It means investing in green jobs. This administration has dedicated more than $90 billion to job-creating clean energy projects. That includes $29 billion for energy efficiency, $21 billion for renewable energy generation, $10 billion for grid modernization, and $6 billion for advanced vehicles and fuels under the Recovery Act. When supplemented by private capital, that money is supporting more than $150 billion in clean-energy projects.

It means developing common-sense strategies that protect health while encouraging private sector investments in energy efficiency and updated technologies. For example, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – or MATS rule – we finalized in 2011 will require the use of advanced pollution controls, many of which are produced here in the US and are already in regular use at plants around the country. Power plants that must make upgrades will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls. So – in the process of finalizing a rule that will save lives, prevent thousands of heart attacks and asthma attacks – we have opened up an opportunity to support around 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs.

Another example is EPA’s participation in setting clear, national standards for fuel economy in American vehicles. The historic fuel economy standards this administration put in place will nearly double the efficiency of the vehicles we drive over the next decade. They’ll save American families $1.7 trillion dollars at the pump, and cut oil consumption by as much as 12 billion barrels. These changes – in addition to saving drivers money – have also sparked widespread innovation.

In North Carolina an advanced battery company called Celgard recently hired 200 employees and is adding 250 more. They are one of many companies operating in the US that have dramatically increased our global market share for advanced batteries. In January I visited a Seattle company called EnerG2, which is working on innovations in energy storage that will have applications in multiple industries. The following month I visited a company called Mission Motors that uses green manufacturing techniques to build power trains for hybrid and electric vehicles. They recently announced plans to double their local workforce in California. Alcoa is investing $300 million in an aluminum rolling facility in Davenport, Iowa to meet anticipated demand for their aluminum from the auto industry. Their investment is going to create 150 new jobs. The auto industry is also benefitting as well. In 2010, both Chrysler and General Motors announced plans to hire 1,000 workers – each – to develop fuel-efficient vehicles.

We’ve also worked to make clear where our economic and environmental priorities overlap. In particular, let me note the work that Ceres has done to coordinate the Investor Network on Climate Change. Both the finance industry and environmentalists have made risk assessment central to our decision making. Today, as seen in many investment strategies, many of those risks are the same: Drought; desertification; biodiversity loss; flooding and other extreme weather phenomena are among the most likely, costly and potentially severe risks listed in a recent report. That report wasn’t the product of a government environmental agency or an eco-advocacy group. It came from the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report that surveyed businesses and investors.

Businesses and their financial backers have experienced the unfortunate down side of this and other environmental threats. In 2008 alone, UNEP estimated that environmental harm resulting from human activity caused $6.6 trillion in damages – much of that to assets held or insured by the financial services sector. Naturally, businesses and investors want to reduce these risks, and to do so, we need to work together.

And we have sought to highlight success stories. Between January 2005 and May 2011, Global 500 companies that demonstrated leadership in carbon disclosure or performance yielded double the average total return as the Global 500 as a whole. Last year when Newsweek released its list of the greenest companies in the world, two professors at the University of Michigan looked to see if the rankings translated into stock market impact. They found that, quote, “highly-rated firms had returns that were 0.6 to 1.0 percent higher than the returns of firms rated poorly.” In other words, they said, “by the end of the week when the ratings came out, the average firm in the Top 100 gained $100 million in market value relative to the average firm outside the Top 100!”

By working to motivate and expand investment in environmental technologies, cleaner production and green infrastructure, we can improve bottom lines while protecting the environment and building healthier communities.

Affordable homes and accessible transit, energy efficiency, clean energy and water conservation, job creation and consumer savings, and new opportunities for innovative businesses on a global market. Those are the benefits of smart, sustainable development in an economy that’s built to last – and it is exciting to see so much potential to do great things for our environment, for our economy and for our communities. But these are more than just our hopes for the future – they are necessities for the years ahead.

For the first time in human history the number of people living in cities around the world has surpassed the number living in rural areas. Over the next 30 years, the vast majority of global population growth is expected to be concentrated in cities. That change will stretch the limits of our energy, water, and food supplies. Growing cities will require not just new power and water sources, but also the infrastructure to deliver reliable energy and clean water. We will need affordable housing and adequate transportation for people and products, as well as systems to address urban waste and pollution in the air and water. And last but certainly not least, it will be essential to generate economic opportunities that ensure widespread global prosperity – without further compromising the stability of our global climate.

These are no small tasks. Governments alone cannot provide the solutions – so we are counting on groups like Ceres and other leading private sector innovators, city planners, academics, environmental experts, nonprofits, investors and financial institutions to be part of an enduring change.

As job creators and vital players in the economy, your presence in this debate can be especially powerful. We need companies and organizations like those represented here to answer claims that our path to success requires eliminating longstanding health protections and turning our future over to big polluters. We need clear examples of companies that are thriving on innovation and sustainability. We need your help to prove that a clean environment and a strong economy work hand in hand.

We have a chance to reshape the economic and environmental future of our entire planet. It is the rarest of opportunities to truly change the world, and make a difference that will benefit not just millions of Americans but billions of people around the globe. I look forward to working with all of you to ensure the best possible outcome. Thank you very much.