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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Choose Clean Water Conference, As Prepared

01/11/2010
As prepared for delivery.

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen. Congratulations to Choose Clean Water on your very first clean water conference. I hope this is the first of many. It is wonderful to be here with people who are standing up to make their community a better place – especially when it comes to water issues.

As many of you know, I grew up in New Orleans – right where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. There are a few differences between New Orleans and the Bay community. But one thing I’ve seen in both places is a profound connection to the water. Like New Orleans, the Bay community has built a history, a culture and an economy around the waters that flow here. You know better than most that water quality has tremendous impacts on quality of life, on economic potential, and on human and environmental health.

The Bay and its watershed play essential and irreplaceable part in the life of this area. That is why we are here today. That is why we choose clean water. And that is why I have made improving water quality a top priority of my time as Administrator.

It is deeply troubling that something as straightforward and valuable as safe, clean water – something we would tend to take for granted, especially in the year 2010 in this country – is anything but assured. EPA has an ambitious vision for our nation’s waters in the years ahead. I want to see a huge leap forward – like we saw in the 70s after the passage of the Clean Water Act. But we face daunting challenges.

Today, the portfolio of pollution and other challenges is more varied than it has ever been. Chemicals seep into our water supply from a variety of less-conventional places. Old strategies can’t keep up with new pollution threats. We’re working to confront non-point sources of pollution like stormwater and household wastes, agricultural and livestock runoff, and a range of chemicals that have become more and more prevalent in our products, our water, and our bodies in the last 50 years. We are being proactive about detection and prevention. But resolving these issues without single major sources, and without single visible effects is a new challenge.

We also see cases where our challenge is to move beyond traditional roles as regulators or enforcers and try to communicate a sense of shared purpose and individual responsibility. Water protection shouldn’t be limited to government agencies cracking down on big polluters. Today, household items that you and I use every day have long-term impacts on our environment. There are steps we can take – but we’re not going to step in and regulate every dishwasher or every fertilized lawn. Instead, we can do more to educate people. We can help facilitate communication and collaboration between individuals, communities and businesses. We can put environmental protection in the hands of the people, and help them help themselves.

Fortunately, there are amazing ideas out there, and dedicated communities of action like the Chesapeake Bay Coalition. EPA is proud to be working by your side. In the last year we’ve made some significant progress.

We’ve supported innovative projects like the green street in Edmonston, Maryland. The town is transforming its central street with both traditional and new ideas. They are also providing a model for similar projects in other parts of the country.

In 2009, EPA invested billions of dollars in state revolving funds through the Recovery Act. Those investments will not only create jobs, they’ll also provide long-overdue updates to water infrastructure. I commend Maryland and Virginia, for being two of only a small handful of states that have committed all of their Recovery Act funds. They are getting that stimulus funding into communities and putting it to use where it is needed most.

We’re developing an Urban Waters Initiative, which we hope to unveil soon, and we’ve joined an Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities. We’re working with HUD and DOT to build communities that are prosperous and sustainable, and protective of environmental treasures like the Chesapeake Bay.

EPA has even launched a new Facebook page called Water is Worth It, where people can post concerns and ideas – and a few complaints – about how we deal with these critical issues. That’s at www.facebook.com/EPAWaterIsWorthIt. I encourage you to visit and join the conversation.

Last but certainly not least, we have initiated – through Presidential leadership and partnership with the states and D.C. – a renewed and re-envisioned effort to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay. Last week it was my great honor to accept the Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council – and to follow Governor Kaine in leading that important partnership.

Our challenge is to live up to the promise of all that was set in motion in 2009. In less than one year, we have taken historic steps. We began with President Obama’s Executive Order, one of the most significant steps towards a Bay cleanup in 25 years. We’ve released reports with recommendations to address the many challenges we face, and used those reports to develop an ambitious restoration strategy. Perhaps most importantly – we’ve established benchmarks for real, measurable, near-term progress. Every two years, we will measure our success, allowing us to adjust where we need changes, and strengthen the programs that work. As we take on this challenge – a challenge that we all know has persisted for decades – it is critical that we stand up and show the results of our investments and our hard work. We have to send a clear message to the people who are watching us and waiting for action: The time for talking has passed. We are ready to act and we are settling for nothing less than real results.

Let me thank Senator Cardin and Congressman Cummings for their commitment to this work. EPA supports reauthorization of the Chesapeake Bay Program, and we look forward to working with Congress on legislation that will provide important new tools for our work in the Chesapeake. And, of course, 2009 marked the beginning of the Choose Clean Water campaign.

All of this has set the stage for the work we will do together in 2010. We’ve set the stage for the most rigorous framework to date for reducing pollution in the watershed. We’ve set the stage for bringing together the efforts of the District, the states, and the federal government. And we’ve set the stage for taking on traditional pollution and degradation, as well as new challenges and non-point sources that will require innovation and creativity.

In May, we will release a final collaborative strategy, with full implementation set to begin this year. We will also be focused on new Total Maximum Daily Load standards. By the summer of 2010 the states and D.C. will submit draft plans for TMDL pollution limits and reductions. By November, we will identify gaps in state and D.C. programs that must be closed to meet pollution limits. And by December 2010, we will finalize Total Maximum Daily Load standards. That TMDL standard will – for the very first time – provide a detailed plan for meeting water quality goals. That will mean clear expectations, specific timetables for implementation, and backstop measures to ensure accountability.

Let me say a word about those backstop measures. The work ahead relies on the effectiveness of revised and revitalized state and D.C. programs. D.C. and the states are the front line for success in this ambitious project. Each of them faces a distinct set of challenges and opportunities. Taking a one-size-fits all approach won’t work – just as it hasn’t worked in the past. We want the states and D.C. to lead the way, with federal support, and federal accountability. To ensure accountability, we have a range of measures that we can take if states and D.C. are unable to meet two-year milestones and other goals. Those include: working with the states to expand coverage of NPDES permits to sources that are currently unregulated; providing new oversight of state-issued NPDES permits; requiring additional pollution reductions from point sources such as wastewater treatment plants; increasing federal enforcement and compliance in the watershed; prohibiting new or expanded pollution discharges unless sufficient offsets are provided; redirecting EPA grants toward pollution control priorities; and establishing finer scale load allocations in the Bay TMDL.

With increased federal accountability measures, we also plan to increase federal support. Along with technical assistance, and the work of the 10 agencies engaged in this effort through the President’s Executive Order, EPA will provide $11.2 million in new grants for the states in fiscal year 2010. This more than doubles the state funding levels of 2009, and will go specifically to permitting, enforcement and other key regulatory activities. A new focus on state regulatory activities is a significant and long overdue change from the past.

As part of our renewed and re-envisioned work on the Chesapeake, EPA has committed to expanded use of our regulatory authority as a further backstop for the work of the states. I’m glad to share the details of that for the first time today. I’m proud to announce that EPA will be initiating rulemaking on stormwater and concentrated animal feeding operations to reduce water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Over the past 25 years, we’ve had success in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants and power plants. Yet, the same cannot be said for pollution from city streets, shopping malls, suburban lawns and the growing number of septic systems in the watershed. Increased stormwater runoff from development is a problem nationwide, not just in the Bay watershed. To address this growing concern, we will be initiating a national rulemaking to increase controls on post-construction stormwater runoff. As part of this rulemaking, we will consider additional Bay- specific requirements, including expanding MS4-regulated areas; setting post-construction standards for areas with smaller development footprints; and increased measures for retaining rainfall on development sites.

We’re also working to address excess nutrients from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. Animal agriculture is a vital part of the Bay history, culture and economy. But it is also responsible for roughly one-quarter of the pollution in the local waters. We have a broadly shared interest in reducing those impacts and ensuring the sustainability of animal agriculture. We would like to see nutrient runoff from CAFOs reduced through existing regulations and enhanced measures in state implementation plans. It is our hope that the states will be addressing these pollution sources effectively, and that federal requirements in some or all the states will prove unnecessary. In the event that state programs are not sufficient, our new rulemaking will seek to strengthen CAFO requirements to improve manure management and reduce nutrient loading. But we will not implement them for states that have adopted effective programs on their own.

We will work closely with the states, the regulated community and all of you in developing these new regulations. And we welcome the input of Secretary Vilsack, USDA and the agricultural community to find common sense solutions for meaningful and lasting improvements in the Bay.

The communities and citizens of Chesapeake Bay watershed have waited too long for the clean water and a healthy environment they deserve. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to get this job done right – right now. We have started down the right path. I’m confident that we can keep moving in that direction. We have challenges to face. But we also have an amazing collection of talented and passionate people here today. We choose clean water. Congratulations to you on this conference. I look forward to continuing our work, and making 2010 another historic year in the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay.