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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, As Prepared

03/11/2009
As prepared for delivery.

I want to begin by pointing out that I come to you as both the Administrator of the EPA and as a parent.

I have two young boys and, first and foremost, I count myself as a mother. I want to thank all of you for your tireless dedication to protecting the health of our nation’s children – mine included.

I’m pleased that we have the opportunity to meet so early into my time here. I hope it underscores for you the importance I place on these issues, and marks the beginning of a very strong partnership.

Our mission at EPA is to preserve the environment for generations to come and to protect the public health in the places where people live, work, learn and play.

Ensuring that our children are not exposed to toxins and pollution or other environmental threats in their homes, in their schools, or anywhere else, is central to that work.

It was one of the top agenda items I laid out in my very first memo, which I sent to all EPA employees in order to establish the priorities of this administration.

It was also reinforced by First Lady Michelle Obama when she visited EPA recently and spoke to the entire staff.

She charged all of us with this responsibility, saying that “the health and safety of our children is our top priority.”

Right now, we have greater opportunities to protect public health and the environment than any other time in the history of the EPA.

We’ve moved beyond the false choice between having a green economy or having a green environment. And we have risen above many of the past divides that often slowed down environmental protection and set us back years.

Today in the congress and throughout the nation, there is tremendous, bipartisan support for green jobs, smart growth, clean energy, and the long list of ideas and innovations that will grow the economy and improve our planet.

So, 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 the message that I’m here to give you, and I hope you will join with me in carrying it to everyone you work with.

That message is that the EPA is back on the job.

We have much to do in restoring the country’s faith in our ability to protect the air, water, and land – now and for future generations.

We have much to do to ensure that communities directly impacted by environmental degradation have not only a voice, but a seat at the decision-making table.

When President Obama set out his environmental agenda, he established three principles that he wants to guide our work.

The first is that science must once again be the determining factor in EPA decision making. When we make a decision that will affect the health and welfare of a community, we must have an unwavering commitment to the very best scientific analysis.

In just the last month, we have begun processes to re-examine previous decisions made at the agency – largely because of questions raised about whether they guided by science, or political interests.

That dilutes the effectiveness of our work, and it raises serious questions of credibility for the people that we serve.

It requires that we use our time and resources to look back when we absolutely need to be moving ahead.

The second guiding principle is adherence to the rule of law.

This is another point where we can’t allow politics or other interests to interfere with work that must be done to protect health and the environment. I owe it to the President, the Congress and – most importantly – the American people, to uphold the law in my work everyday.

Third, we must operate with unparalleled transparency. For too long the people have stood on the outside of the EPA, and many other agencies, and wondered who we were working for.

I want the people to know that we work for them. I want them and you to know who I am meeting with, what actions I am taking, and why I am taking them.

I want that standard of transparency not only because it is expected of EPA as a public agency, but because it helps show the average citizen that the issues of environmental protection are their issues. That we don’t operate in isolation or secrecy.

The great news is that we have plenty of support. The President has put an extraordinary amount of trust in us to advance EPA’s mission.

In the budget he sent to congress last month, President Obama gave the EPA the highest level of funding that we have seen in our 39 year history.

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

In all of this, the issue of children’s health is paramount.

Our work with CHPAC is instrumental to what is ahead. We owe it to parents and all the American people to renew and revitalize this partnership, and be unyielding in our defense of our children.

We have already gotten started. As I’m sure you all know, last week we announced a new initiative to measure levels of toxic air pollution near schools across the country.

We will be working with state, tribal and local officials to determine which schools are exposed to high levels of toxic air pollution – with a strong focus on schools located near large industries and in urban areas.

That will begin at some schools within the next 30 days. Results will be available to the public as quickly as we can provide them, so that the many concerned parents can get critical information they deserve, and so that we can all take action where it is required.

That is just the beginning.

We have important obligations to look ahead and be proactive about preventing and, where necessary, mitigating the particular effects climate change will have on children’s health and welfare.

We need to step up our efforts to assess and manage chemical risks that are particularly harmful to children. Early life exposures can have tragic, life-long effects and we must be diligent in preventing any possible dangers.

I know that you have made many recommendations on this topic and I am eager to hear your advice on how to best protect children from harmful chemical exposures.

Something else I am particularly concerned about is eliminating disparities in environmental health and safety for minorities and low-income populations. I need your help to create a sustainable and healthy environment for children and adults in every single community.

These and many other issues like healthy communities, energy efficiency, public transportation, walkable neighborhoods, air quality, water quality, and hazardous waste – will all be important to children’s health protection.

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

The EPA will once again be a leader in protecting children’s health from environmental threats, both domestically and internationally.

But it will take all of us working together – the thousands of dedicated and talented EPA employees, experts such as all of you in this room, and a nation energized to create a healthier future.

I’m eager to hear about your priorities, your areas of concern and your advice on what to do about them. I’m counting on your counsel both today and in the future as we continue to work on crucial children’s health issues.

Thank you again.