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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the 2009 Toxics Release Invemtory Training Conference, As Prepared

04/01/2009
As prepared for delivery.

Many of you know that this is a return home for me. I started with EPA as a staff-level scientist in 1987.

TRI started at EPA in the same year that I did.

I proceeded to spend 16 years with the Agency – 13 of those years at the regional level. I also served as the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

I spent a substantial amount of that time working on hazardous waste cleanups and enforcement, so I have seen the importance of resources like TRI in very real terms.

I have connected with communities and individuals who were affected by exposure to toxic pollution. I still remember the stories I heard and the people that we worked to serve.

It’s also been a part of these first few months as Administrator.

Just yesterday, in fact, we announced a list of schools where we will be focusing resources to monitor levels of harmful pollutants in the air.

That action was in response to story in USA Today. To write that story, USA Today used TRI data and an EPA model to track the path of industrial pollution in reference to almost 128,000 schools.

When that story was published, parents all across the nation read about the dangerous air around our schools.

They read how children absorb toxic pollutants in the same quantities as adults – meaning they ingest a much higher dose of toxics for their body weight.

They read about how children are more vulnerable to asthma and other respiratory illnesses – and more susceptible to long-term complications that will affect them throughout their lives.

Then, they sent their kids to school, wondering if they were putting them in harm’s way.

As a mother, I understand that concerned parents deserve information as quickly as we can gather and analyze it.

We’re working now with our state, and local partners to determine where elevated levels of toxics pose a threat, so that the many concerned parents can get critical information, and so that we can all take action where it is required.

Initiatives like these are tremendously important – especially at this particular moment.

One of the challenges we face is restoring the American people’s faith in our ability to protect the air, water, and land.

Serving the public’s right-to-know; ensuring that our data is based on the best science and full transparency; and making sure that it is as accessible as possible – that is how we begin to rebuild public trust.

And that is how we establish a strong foundation for the long list of agenda items that we hope to accomplish in the years ahead.

And it is a long list.

First and foremost, we must be a part of the solution to the worst economic crisis in generations.

Some might be inclined to count that as a new challenge against us. But I believe it opens up a host of new opportunities.

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.

That idea is beginning to take hold across the nation.

We have in President Obama a leader who has rejected the false choice between a green economy and a green environment.

He and many others have stood up to say that our environmental future and our economic future are inextricably linked.

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

For EPA, the stimulus means more than $7 billion invested in “shovel ready” projects – things like refurbished water infrastructure, cleanup of Brownfield and Superfund sites, projects to cut emissions in diesel engines, and repair work on leaking underground storage tanks that are polluting land and groundwater supplies.

We’re showing that protecting health and the environment can go hand in hand with economic growth.

We are also at a critical moment of world leadership. Around the globe, other nations are looking to us for action.

We just saw a great example of that at the global environment summit in Nairobi.

For years, U.S. policy has been to oppose any binding international standards on mercury levels. Last month, we agreed to join in the effort to lower the levels of mercury worldwide.

Once we changed that policy and committed our support, other countries like China and India came right to the table.

They were perfectly willing to follow our lead, but unwilling to act without us.

That is the power we have to make a difference, to be the standard-bearer and have a truly global impact.

The good news is that we have plenty of support.

The President also proposed in his first budget the highest level of funding support that EPA has seen in our 39 year history.

That also means we have the highest level of expectation that we have seen in our 39 year history, too.

Right now, we have greater opportunities to protect public health and the environment than ever before.

That’s why, when I’ve spoken to reporters, industry leaders, community members, or 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’s that EPA is back on the job.

TRI has been a big part of that. Last month we released the most recent set of data to the public, showing, for the most part steady reductions in chemicals in our environment.

This year, TRI also returned to its prior, stronger reporting requirements, opening the way for a more comprehensive understanding of this important data.

As I said, we’ve also taken our first important steps to track pollution outside of our schools.

We’ve announced plans to review the California waiver on auto emissions and proposed standards for nationwide greenhouse gas reporting.

And we recently submitted to the White House a proposed endangerment finding on carbon and other heat-trapping pollutants.

These are all crucial advances in our work. And TRI is another place where we have lots of room to move the ball up the field.

First of all, we should take a look at our most recent numbers. We need to explore the decrease in the facilities who are reporting to TRI, as well as the increase in persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals in the environment.

As we move ahead, I want to continue to make the program even more open and transparent. I want to ensure that we can gather data and make it useful to the public as quickly as possible.

I want us to continue to build our partnerships with states, NGO’s, industry, and others who can make use of TRI data.

A great example of that is the new, collaborative Web site that EPA and ECOS are working on together.

Finally, I want to be sure we are encouraging companies who are making progress in reducing pollution.

This year for the first time, we made facility pollution prevention information public as part of the data release, and I am interested in continuing to recognize such progress.

TRI is a cornerstone of our mission to protect human health and the environment.

It’s fundamental to our core principles of science, law, and the utmost transparency. It’s essential to community right-to-know, and opens the way for their right-to-act.

Above all, it’s a crucial resource for individuals and communities across the nation.

Environmental protection is about human protection. It’s about family protection and community protection.

It’s about safeguarding people in the places where they live, work, play, and learn.

Providing this information is where that starts.

I look forward to working with all of you on expanding and improving TRI and all of EPA’s operations in the years ahead. Thank you very much.