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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the National Press Club, As Prepared

03/08/2010
Watch video of this speech.

As prepared for delivery.

I’m afraid I’m coming to you a little bit sleep deprived today. Like a lot of you I was up watching the Oscars. If any of you saw my Twitter feed, you know I predicted Avatar to win best picture. So I missed the mark on that one. But even if the movie with the environmental message didn’t win, I was proud to see best picture go to the movie with the woman director. Today I’m happy to have the chance to bring you the best of both of those two experiences. And as I get into my speech, I also ask you to keep in mind that the movie with the environmental message made a lot of money.

I truly am grateful for the opportunity to speak about how the good people at the Environmental Protection Agency have been making history.

We’ve restored the rightful place of science as the first factor in all of our decisions; developed and implemented rules that will protect children, keep people healthy and save lives; and taken long-overdue action on climate change, including a revolutionary clean cars program built on the historic finding that greenhouse gas pollution endangers public health and welfare.

On that last point, the overwhelming scientific evidence was recently met with arguments that Washington DC experienced an unprecedented blizzard and record snowfalls this winter – as if an unexpected change in our climate somehow disproves climate change.

Today I want to talk about a misconception that threatens to do more harm to our progress as a nation than the carping over climate science. And that’s the misconception that we must make a choice between cleaning up our environment and growing our economy.

I’ve worked in environmental protection for 20 years. I’ve seen meaningful environmental efforts met time and again with predictions of lost jobs and lost revenue. Lobbyists and business journals have done such a good job of engraining it into our way of thinking that many of us believe, sadly, that we must choose between our environment and our economy. The people in my line of work haven’t done the best job of communicating our side in this debate. We’ve lost the messaging war and have work to do to present the alternative. It helps that history and the facts bear us out. I’m here to show you today that the choice between the environment and the economy is indeed a false choice.

Well-conceived, effectively implemented environmental protection is good for economic growth. Let me repeat that: environmental protection is good for economic growth. Don’t get me wrong – environmental regulations are not free. But the money that’s spent is an investment in our country – and one that pays for itself.

First, environmental protection makes us healthier. It eliminates contributors to costly and often deadly diseases like asthma, cancer and heart disease.

My youngest son is one of 23 million Americans with asthma. I know the financial and emotional burdens of hospital visits and doctors appointments.

When the air is dirty, or the water is contaminated, and people are getting sick, those kinds of health costs are multiplied by millions of families. And they’re a burden to small businesses trying to provide health care to their workers.

Good environmental protection is critical to our health, and because of that it’s critical to our economy.

Second, environmental protection makes our communities more prosperous and our workforce more productive.

Those of you with kids in college will understand the words of man who said to me, “Businesses come to communities like parents come to colleges. They look at the environment to make sure it’s healthy…They look at the people to make sure they’re getting what they need to thrive… They want to know that this place means a better future…And they don’t put their money down if they don’t like what they see.”

This is something we see all the time in our ongoing work on environmental justice. The idea that environmental degradation is an obstacle to economic prosperity is a pillar of the environmental justice movement. And in the places where new jobs are needed the most, environmental degradation is an entry barrier for new investments and businesses.

It’s what we see in inner cities where air pollution makes kids miss school and workers stay home.

It’s what we see on tribal lands where open landfills are rampant and drinking water is polluted. Earlier this year I met a tribal leader who told me that his community was facing 50 percent unemployment.

It’s what we see in Greenville, Mississippi, which is having trouble attracting jobs because their water – even though it meets federal safety standards – runs brown.

Poison in the ground means poison in the economy. A weak environment means a weak consumer base. And unhealthy air means an unhealthy atmosphere for investments. But a clean, green healthy community is a better place to buy a home and raise a family, it’s more competitive in the race to attract new businesses, and it has the foundations it needs for prosperity.

These are two reasons why our environment is essential to our economy. But what I want to focus on today is the vital role environmentalism plays for a critical driver of our economic success: our capacity for innovation and invention.

Just yesterday Thomas Friedman wrote that “America still has the best innovation culture in the world.” …He immediately followed that by saying, “But we need better policies to nurture it.”

That is what smart environmental protection does. It creates a need – in other words, a market for clean technology – and then drives innovation and invention – in other words, new products for that market.

This is our convenient truth: smart environmental protection creates jobs.

Now that may be a difficult idea for some folks to handle. Before I go any further, let me lay out some common ground.

Everyone wants a clean environment. 10 out of 10 Republicans want clean air to breathe. 10 out of 10 Democrats think safe water is important. Ask all 20 and they’d actually agree.

As a Boston Globe editorial put it last week, even “anti-government” protestors know it’s “no fun having a tea party with contaminated water.”

I receive as many letters from red states as I do from blue states – from New Bedford, Massachusetts to Tar Creek, Oklahoma.

Last year, an amendment for EPA to relocate residents away from lead pollution in Treece, Kansas was sponsored by Republican Senators Brownback, Roberts and even my good friend Senator James Inhofe.

Senator Roberts called it "one of the rare instances of true bipartisan support."

Often times the same offices that are blasting out press releases on the overreach of faceless EPA bureaucrats are also asking those same bureaucrats for help. That’s a textbook example of irony and it’s all too evident in today’s politics. When it comes to people’s health, everyone wants strong environmental protection.

Everyone also wants a strong economy. We all want robust job growth. No one favors higher costs for starting businesses or manufacturing products.

I have two teenage sons – which means I buy a lot of stuff. I am an active American consumer and the last thing I want to see are higher prices for food or utility bills or shoes or clothes.

So – we all want a clean environment. And we all want a strong economy.

What you may not realize is that we all have seen proof that we can have both.

In the last 30 years, emissions of six dangerous air pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, lead poisoning and more decreased 54 percent. At the same time, gross domestic product grew by 126 percent.

That means we made huge reductions in air pollution at the same time that more cars went on the road, more power plants went on line and more buildings went up.

The question is: How does that happen? The answer is: innovation.

Innovation is the “sweet spot” where our economic and environmental interests meet. It’s where business leaders and conservationists can come together to hash out solutions – solutions that have filled American history with environmental achievements and helped us lead the global economy.

America is home to a world-leading environmental technology industry. By conservative estimates, in 2007 environmental firms and small businesses in the US generated $282 billion in revenues and $40 billion in exports, and supported 1.6 million American jobs. And that number doesn’t include all the engineers and professional services firms that support those businesses.

Take for example New Jersey’s Engelhard Corporation, which led the commercial production of the catalytic converter. If you drove here today, your car had a catalytic converter in it to burn unleaded gasoline. Today these things are standard. 30 years ago – when EPA used the Clean Air Act to phase in unleaded gas and catalytic converters – they were extremely controversial.

Many major automakers opposed them. The Chamber of Commerce claimed, and I quote, “entire industries might collapse.”

Using the Clean Air Act in this way was said to be a poison pill for our economy – something that sounds all too familiar around Washington today.

Yet, the auto industry survived. Dangerous lead pollution in our air is 92 percent lower than it was in 1980. By 1985 the reductions of lead in our environment had estimated health benefits of $17 billion per year. The initial cost of the rule was paid back 10 to 13 times. And in 2006, the Engelhard Corporation was bought for $5 billion.

That’s just one good example of how it works. A new environmental rule led to new innovations, which led to new jobs.

Those of you too young to remember the switch to catalytic converters may remember the phase out of ozone-depleting CFCs. CFCs were the chemicals in aerosol cans and other products that led to a growing hole in the ozone layer.

I remember a lot of people wondering if they were going to have to give up their hairspray or their deodorant – and not being too happy about it. And they weren’t the only ones.

The chemical industry predicted severe economic disruption. Refrigeration companies forecasted shutdowns of supermarket coolers and chiller machines used to cool office buildings, hotels and hospitals.

Companies that used CFCs in manufacturing believed the transition would be next to impossible.

The doom-and-destruction never came to pass. Refrigerators and air conditioners stayed on.

When innovators took up the manufacturing challenge, they found alternatives that worked better than CFCs. Some developed new technology that cut costs while actually improving productivity and quality.

And by making their products better and cleaner, the American refrigeration industry actually gained access to markets overseas – giving them new economic opportunities.

These examples speak to a long history of innovation, new jobs and better health through environmental protection.

Yet, many still claim that regulation is too costly, and believe that scaling back is the best thing for growth.

We’ve also already seen that in action. The theory that less regulation ought to be good for the economy was put to the test in the last administration.

In that time, there was no apparent benefit for businesses or consumers. Prices on most products went up and costs of fuel increased astronomically. Any savings that may have been expected for businesses certainly didn’t translate into higher wages for American workers.

In fact, the health impacts for million of Americans suffering from asthma, cancer and heart disease – coupled with the steady rise in health insurance costs – created yet another level of expense for families and businesses.

Today we are slowly but surely pulling up and out of the economic downturn. But many of our communities don’t have what they need to rebuild.

It’s no accident that so much of the Recovery Act is environmentally focused and no wonder that so much of it is based on clean energy innovation – the solar, wind and smart grid investments that have been made in the last year.

But clean energy and community cleanup jobs in the Recovery Act are just the beginning.

The question we face now is, what can we at EPA do to protect our environment, strengthen our communities and foster prosperity? One of the clear answers is abandoning the old disputes and working in partnership on new innovations.

Partnerships like the clean cars program – which took shape when President Obama brought together automakers, autoworkers, governors from across the country, and environmental advocates to craft an historic agreement.

Cleaner car standards will mean 950 million tons of carbon pollution cut from our skies; $3000 in savings for drivers of clean cars, and $2.3 billion that can stay at home in our economy rather than buying oil from overseas.

It will also mean new innovation.

American scientists can step up to produce new composite materials that make cars lighter, safer and more fuel efficient.

Our inventors and entrepreneurs can take the lead in advanced battery technology for plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

And manufacturers across the country can produce these new components – which they can then sell to automakers in the US and around the globe.

New environmental protections. New innovations. New jobs.

This is the direction we are moving in 2010 as well.

EPA has already proposed new smog reductions and finalized the first new NO2 standard in 35 years. We’re developing air pollution standards that we know will foster new innovation – and we’re working in partnership with utility companies to figure out how we get there.

We’re boosting the production and use of advanced biofuels to double our use of renewables and break our dependence on foreign oil. That will benefit rural communities, spark new demand, and – with clarity on where the regulations stand – promote investments in research to expand the effectiveness and uses of renewable biofuels.

And of course, we will continue to face down our climate crisis and move into the clean energy future.

As you might expect, we’re running into the same old tired arguments.

Once again industry and lobbyists are trying to convince us that changes will be absolutely impossible. Once again alarmists are claiming this will be the death knell of our economy. Once again they are telling us we have to choose: Economy? Or environment?

Most drastically, we are seeing efforts to further delay EPA action to reduce greenhouse gases.

This is happening despite the overwhelming science on the dangers of climate change…despite the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision that EPA must use the Clean Air Act to reduce the proven threat of greenhouse gases…and despite the fact that leaving this problem for our children to solve is an act of breathtaking negligence.

Supposedly these efforts have been put forward to protect jobs. In reality, they will have serious negative economic effects.

The clean cars program could be put on indefinite hold, leaving American automakers once again facing a patchwork of state standards. Without a clear picture of greenhouse gas regulations, there will be little incentive to invest in clean energy jobs. America will fall further behind our international competitors in the race for clean energy innovation.

Finally, the economic costs of unchecked climate change will be orders of magnitude higher for the next generation than it would be for us to take action today.

I can’t in good conscience support any measure that passes that burden on to my two sons, and to their children. I find it hard to believe that any parent could say to their child, “We’re going to wait to act.”

This debate also has us arguing over something the American people and many American businesses have already decided on.

Recent years have seen a growing grassroots environmentalism that is directly tied to our economy. Informed consumers are demanding more of their products. Business leaders are recognizing cost-savings potential of energy efficiency and sustainability – and they are putting serious money behind innovation.

This is a grassroots environmental movement that votes with its dollars.

7 in 10 consumers say they will choose brands that are doing good things for people and the planet.
74 percent believe that our companies should do more to protect our planet. And more than half of Americans will look for environmentally friendly products in their next purchase.

These changes are happening – and not on the margins of our economy. Walmart – the largest retailer in the world – has set goals to use 100 percent renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell healthier, sustainable products.

Two weeks ago they announced a plan to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions across the lifecycle of their products in the next five years. They made the announcement via webcast on – of all places – the website TreeHugger.com.

Proctor and Gamble – which produces Tide, Duracell and products that touch almost 3 billion people per day – is planning an announcement next week encouraging all* their brands to shrink their environmental footprint. A General Mills factory in Minnesota is recycling oat hulls from their cereals for biofuel – and saving $500,000 in fuel costs in the process. The appropriately-named Green Giant is reducing pesticides and chemical water pollution with sustainable farming.

These are companies we all know and use – Timberland, Nike, the Gap, Best Buy, Starbucks – and they are responding to consumer demand. Consumers want to know that their products don’t have hidden health and environmental costs. Companies must respond to parents who refuse to buy bottles with BPA in them, or that leach dangerous chemicals into drinking water.

Industry can try to resist and ignore EPA, but I know – and they know – that they resist the forces of the green marketplace at their own peril.

It’s time to put to rest the notion that economic growth and environmental protection are incompatible. It’s time to finally dismiss this false choice.

We need a new approach that plays to America’s greatest strengths of ingenuity, invention and innovation. We need to reclaim leadership in the development of new products that protect our health and our environment. And we need to capitalize on the growing green marketplace here and around the world.

That approach would be a return to basics – which is appropriate for the EPA in 2010. This year marks EPA’s 40th Anniversary. When EPA began 40 years ago, the first Administrator William Ruckelshaus wrote “The technology which has bulldozed its way across the environment must now be employed to remove impurities from the air, to restore vitality to our rivers and streams, to recycle the waste that is the ugly by-product of our prosperity.” That is just as true now as it was then.

We can’t retreat from a rapidly industrialized planet and a global economy. We must integrate conservation and a passion for planetary stewardship into the global rush towards economic growth.

On the same token, the laissez-faire and anti-government crowd must understand that ever-expanding economic opportunity is not possible without sustainability. Without protection for the water, air and land that people depend on, we can only go so far. Without clean energy, the global economy will be running on empty within our lifetimes. It’s time to stop denying that obvious truth, stop playing on the politics of delay and denial, and start thinking more broadly about what is going to help us all move forward together.

Which brings me to my final point – another piece of common ground we share. We are all counting on the ingenuity and the creativity of the American people.

I’m done with the false choice between the economy and the environment. I want an EPA that is a leader in innovations that protect our health and our environment and expand new opportunities. I’m not interested in leading an agency that only tells us what we can’t do. I want to work together on all the things we can do.

This is about rising to meet our most urgent environmental and economic challenges – not shrinking from them with the excuse that it’s just too hard. That’s never been a good enough answer for the American people.

At no point in our history has any problem been solved by “waiting another year to act” or burying our heads in the sand. Progress is made by seeing – in our greatest challenges – all the possibilities for building a healthier, more prosperous future, and bringing the best we have to offer to the table.

It’s what we’ve done before. It’s what we have to do again today. It’s not something we can leave for tomorrow.

*CORRECTION: Applies to all brands that are part of Proctor and Gamble’s “Future Friendly” Initiative.