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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the 10th National Conference on Science, Policy, and the Environment: The New Green Economy, As Prepared

01/21/2010
As prepared for delivery.

Congratulations to NCSE on your tenth national conference. Thank you for working to maintain the integrity of environmental protection, and for providing a place where – in the toughest times of the last 10 years – people have come to find solutions.

In the last 12 months, EPA has worked to rebuild the public’s trust in our agency. We have sought to reaffirm our core mission and values, and tried to show the American public that science, transparency and the law are paramount in protecting human health and the environment. I had an interesting moment a few weeks ago when we announced stronger standards to reduce ground level ozone and cut smog. Someone said to me, “This must be a nice moment for you.” And I thought, “Well, no, it’s not.” To be sure – I am proud that we are taking action. But explaining that there is a harmful pollutant in our communities and that we must act quickly to protect children and the elderly and others is not something that I celebrate. It reinforced just how critical it is that we shift the conversation on environmental issues away from politics and back to science.

We can’t afford to look at our work as a victory for one side or the other – because it dilutes our effectiveness as an agency. It dilutes the American people’s ability to look at EPA and see us as a guardian of the things that they value. If we go back to science, we will make decisions on clean air and water that are based on human health. It will allow us to identify and articulate very clearly what we face and what we must do. On issues like climate change and smog and chemical management, the science can and should speak for itself. Clear science lets Democrats and Republicans and Independents – all groups that I’m sure are represented in this room – see their shared stake in these issues. It moves us towards shared solutions. Thank you to NCSE for working hard over the years to improve and expand science.

One of those shared solutions is the “New Green Economy.” In the last year EPA and the Obama administration have focused on the green economy. We have done that for a number of reasons. I’d like to talk about four of those reasons today.

The first reason is that we believe a green economy is a strong economy. President Obama has stated clearly that the choice between a good jobs and a clean environment is a false choice. Clean, healthy communities are the best places for business investments and new homes. Clean, healthy products are the best products for our marketplace. Two decades of work in environmental protection have shown me example after example where the smart environmental decision is also the smart economic decision.

Where I worked in New Jersey, the Passaic River is heavily contaminated with industrial waste, trash, and dioxins that can cause cancer. It’s not safe to swim there or to eat any fish from the river, and in recent years, cleanup efforts have stalled. As a result, no one will invest in the local communities. Opportunities for development along what would be prime water-front property just aren’t there. Environmental degradation has stunted the growth of the local economy. On the other hand is the Gold Coast – an area of former industrial sites on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Much of the development there has taken place on brownfields sites – formerly contaminated industrial lots that were cleaned up and rehabilitated. Those are now back in the local economy. Rather than languishing as unsafe, empty lots, they’ve become home to growing businesses. Companies have seized the opportunities there. They’re moving into those sites, setting up shop, and creating good jobs. In recent years the Gold Coast has had some of the most valuable real estate in the country.

And the difference is that the environment has been rehabilitated, make it a place where people want to live, work and play; making it a stronger, more prosperous community.

That is one reason we trust in the New Green Economy. The second reason is that the moment compels us. Right now, communities across the nation are hard at work pulling our economy up and out of the worst downturn since World War II. President Obama’s Recovery Act has cut taxes for the vast majority of middle class families and provided critical resources to local governments so they can keep teachers, fire fighters and police officers in their jobs. Today, our economy is growing again and we are building a new foundation for prosperity. But many of our communities are also facing significant environmental challenges. So we have worked to make sure our recovery is a green recovery.

For EPA, that has meant billions of dollars invested in rebuilding water infrastructure, which is essential to both the health of the community and its economic growth potential. It has meant accelerating Superfund and brownfields cleanups. Those create new jobs today, and leave communities better prepared for new developments and new jobs in the future. And it has meant clean diesel retrofits for school buses, municipal fleets, port and rail yard machinery and other vehicles. That is creating fuel savings that school districts can put back in the classroom and city governments can use for other essential services, and it’s cleaning up the air for millions of Americans.

Which brings me to my third reason: clean energy is the global growth industry of the 21st century. The United States is at a critical crossroads right now, where we are either going take leadership in clean energy innovation, or fall further behind our international competitors. The President has called for America to get in the race. We want to catch and surpass the solar leadership Germany now holds. To catch and surpass Japan in manufacturing hybrid cars. To catch and surpass China in the production of wind power.

Energy investments in the Recovery Act have sparked solar projects in Florida, wind energy development in Michigan, and a solar plant in California. We’ve initiated the development of new battery technology for electric vehicles and taken the first steps toward building a national smart grid to efficiently deliver our clean American energy supply. But this is just the beginning. The President has pledged to double our nation’s use of renewable energy in his first three years. And we have committed $150 billion over the next decade to clean energy. We’re also working with Congress to pass a strong clean energy and climate bill. That bill will fight climate change and send a clear signal to American innovators and entrepreneurs that it’s time to get to work on clean energy technology.

A clean energy industry at the center of the New Green Economy can create millions of jobs for American workers – jobs in everything from manufacturing to installation and maintenance to research and development. These are good jobs that can’t be sent overseas. They employ local workers, and they help to build a strong foundation for future growth. We have the chance to lead the world if we act now.

The fourth – and final – reason I want to talk about today needs a little bit of preface. As we know, the field of economics talks often about externalities. These are the effects of a transaction that extend beyond the involved parties and affect others. Typically, we speak of these in negative terms. Air and water pollution are often the externalities of our industrial production. The destruction of Appalachian streams is an externality of our coal sector. Climate change is an externality of our carbon based economy. Of all the potential paths forward for our economy, the Green Economy presents the most numerous and significant opportunities for positive externalities. A New Green Economy is the only one that offers not only new jobs, but cost savings, health benefits, and stronger national security.

Take for example, energy efficiency. A McKinsey study estimates that $520 billion invested in energy efficiency today would net $1.2 trillion dollars in energy cost savings through 2020. $2 in savings for every dollar invested – a very positive externality.

Consider the health benefits of a green economy. Heart disease, cancer and respiratory illness are three of the top four most fatal health threats in America.

They account for more than half of the deaths in the nation. And all three have been linked to environmental causes. A green economy would substantially reduce the pollution linked to these deadly health issues. A green economy will also reduce the economic burdens of hospital visits, medical bills and lost work and school days. The clean diesel retrofits I mentioned earlier are estimated to provide $13 in public health benefit for every dollar invested – more positive externalities.

Perhaps more than anything else, clean energy brings these positive externalities – especially when compared to the alternative. Defenders of the status quo claim that we should ramp up the domestic supplies of existing energy sources. But we’ve been down that path before. In 2001 we saw an energy plan focused on fossil fuels. Supporters pledged that it would lower fuel costs for consumers and businesses and reduce our growing dependence on foreign oil. But it didn’t work. By 2006, crude oil prices had more than doubled. Gas prices had skyrocketed. Natural gas was more expensive, and dependence on foreign oil had increased by more than half. And simply increasing our use of domestic fossil fuels did nothing to clean up the air we breathe. It didn’t help millions of American children who suffer with asthma. It didn’t allow cities covered in smog to cut harmful emissions.

Clean energy helps reduce these health threats – positive externality. After the initial investments in wind turbines, solar fields and a smart grid, clean energy can be supplied from low-cost sources at steady prices – positive externality. Finally, clean, American-made energy can free us from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil – one that threatens our economy and our national security. We can keep billions of dollars circulating in our own economy, rather than sending them to parts of the world that don’t always have our best interests at heart – very positive externality.

These are just a few of the reasons we support the New Green Economy. Because a green economy is a strong economy; because the urgent economic and environmental challenges compel us to find simultaneous solutions; because clean energy is the global growth industry of this century and America should lead the way; and because no other investment we can make has such broad reaching benefits – for our economy, for our health, for our environment, for our wallets, and for our security.

With these and other reasons in mind, we have taken the first steps forward. But there is a long way to go. It helps to know that there are so many of you ready to take on this once-in-a-generation challenge. I look forward to working with you. Thank you very much.