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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the Environmental Council of the States, As Prepared

03/23/2009
As prepared for delivery.

I am so happy to be back here at ECOS. I had the great pleasure of being part of this group when I was working in New Jersey, and of working with Mike as his Vice-Chair when he was Chair of the Compliance Committee.

In so many ways, this is a return home for me. 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 state level.

It was a great education on exactly how vital the coordination between EPA and the states is.

I know – better than most – that for the work we have ahead of us, clear communication and close partnerships cannot be underestimated or undervalued.

Because I’ve also seen up-close how the work we do touches people’s lives.

A great example of what we can accomplish is one of the very first steps we’ve taken since I started in January – the effort to monitor toxic air pollution around certain schools.

We want to ensure that our children are not exposed to harmful toxins in the place where they go to learn. We want our kids to fully engage in their education and their lives without worrying about getting sick.

We want to be sure that they – and their teachers – are not burdened with long-term illnesses from something that we can work together to prevent.

There is a fundamental obligation and – I think most people would agree – a common-sense reason to step up here. Getting it done is going to take close partnership at the federal and state levels, and I look forward to our success.

I can’t think of a higher calling then coming back to EPA and working with all of you to address the urgent, ongoing and – in many cases – long overdue issues we face.

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

We are 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.

And the administration is 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 climate change.

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 human health around the globe. 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.

Let me say: I am a mother of two young boys. The parents in here know – that makes me an active American consumer. I know what it’s like for people who are struggling to make ends meet in these times.

I also want my sons to go to college and get jobs when they get older, so the short- and long-term strength of the economy are not only professional, but personal concerns of mine.

The last thing EPA wants to do – and the last place we want to position your agencies or the larger environmental protection effort – 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.

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

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

For EPA, the stimulus act means an investment – in a very short window of time – of more than $7 billion in “shovel ready” projects that protect human health, safeguard the environment, and bring green jobs to our communities.

That’s an immediate funding infusion that exceeds the Agency’s entire budget request from 2009.

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

You will play a major role in distributing and managing this money. 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 states under your 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.

We can educate and grow the nation’s first ever “green workforce.” We can build infrastructure that minimizes the environmental footprint we leave for future generations, and we can take great leaps forward in environmental progress.

But we also run the risk of damaging our mission irrevocably if we don’t honor the trust put in us.

We’re here to help put those investments in place as quickly as possible to grow jobs and strengthen health and environmental protection in your states.

Along with the ARRA, the President has also proposed in the budget he sent to congress last month 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.

Some of the highlights include:

$3.9 billion for approximately 1,000 clean water projects and 700 drinking water projects.

A new $475 million, multi-agency Great Lakes Initiative.

And a $19 million increase for the greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

To put that highest-ever level of investment to work, I want to make sure that we have the highest-ever level of coordination between EPA and the states.

As a first step, I’m proud to announce a change that ECOS has called for and that we think will help improve the effectiveness of our work.

As many of you know, the previous administration issued a rule that – depending on the amount a state uses from permit fees to cover the cost of their NPDES permit programs – redirects a portion of state water program grants.

ECOS and many states have expressed concern that this decision was made without adequate prior consultation. I know a lot of you are worried that the rule interferes with your decisions on financing programs that, of course, have different needs in your individual states.

I believe in the “polluter pays” principle. And I support the use of fees to fund our programs. But after reviewing this decision, I don’t believe that this was the right approach towards a worthy goal. So I have directed my staff to rescind the regulation.

As I said, this is just a first step. I want us to focus on broader and longer-term changes as well – one of the most important being improvements to our joint strategic planning.

For years, ECOS has been a strong partner in helping shape the work of EPA. Your continued support and input are invaluable.

I expect the years ahead to be some of the busiest that EPA and the state agencies have ever seen.

And in all likelihood, we will have to expand services in spite of shrinking state budgets. The answer lies in a robust partnership and coordinated strategic planning.

I also see opportunities to foster innovation and flexibility, and promote greater efficiency and cost savings.

This is something that has given us real, tangible improvements in recent years:

Delaware reduced its air construction permit backlog from 199 cases to just 25.

Iowa shortened decision-making time for its Underground Storage Tank program from 38 months to three.

And a joint effort between EPA's Office of Water and the states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska cut the number of steps in the EPA water quality standards review process almost in half – from 50 steps down to 26.

There are opportunities like these in every one of your offices, and I’m challenging you to go out and find them. We will do the same across EPA as well.

Right now, the oversight requirements in the stimulus package give us a chance to improve all of our oversight. Programs like the State Review Framework can ensure efficiency and effectiveness, and guarantee that tax-payer dollars are focused squarely on program delivery.

And last, but certainly not least, we must make it our business to ensure that environmental protection is touching 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.

I won’t stand by and accept the disparities any longer. It’s my mission to show all Americans that this EPA works for them, and I hope you will join me.

Our environmental challenges are immense in scale and urgency. But they will be met.

By joining with you in unprecedented partnerships, we have greater opportunities to protect public health and the environment than at any other time in the history of the EPA.

So,when I’ve spoken to reporters, industry leaders, or any 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 is that EPA is back on the job.

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

You are essential to fulfilling that vision. We want to do our part at EPA to share our knowledge and experience, and to make our resources available when they will be useful to meeting our goals, and to strengthen our work in every community across the country.

Thank you very much. I look forward to working with all of you.