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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the American Iron and Steel Institute, As Prepared

11/04/2009
As prepared for delivery.

I want to thank you for inviting me today. We have a great deal to talk about. First, I know it may seem like an odd fit for the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to speak to American Iron and Steel. Most people probably think that someone in my business only talks to people in your business when something has gone terribly wrong – when we need to take an enforcement action, or have a regulation to sort out.

There is, I sense, a widespread perception that two groups like ours are on opposite sides of a debate about the economy and the environment. But I know that the environment plays a bigger role in your work than most people understand.

I know that American steel is recycled more than any other material. I know that you have gone to great lengths to reduce your energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the last two decades – outpacing most other industries and sectors. I know that you are conscientious stewards of the materials you bring in, and the waste you put out. And I also know that in the clean energy economy we envision – one built on things like electric vehicle manufacturing, wind turbine plants and energy efficient buildings – American Iron and Steel is going to be a key player.

The environmental movement suffers from a similar image problem. Only ours typically happens in reverse. In the same way that people assume your economic activity is incompatible with environmental stewardship, they also expect that the business of the EPA is incompatible with growing a strong economy. I’ve worked in environmental protection for more than 20 years. In that time, I’ve been in countless situations where environmental priorities on the one hand were weighed – and often, outweighed – by economic concerns on the other hand. We are seeing a long-overdue shift in the understanding of that intersection between our economy and our environment – starting with President Obama, who has made clear that we don’t have to choose between a green environment and a growing economy.

A cornerstone of our Recovery Act has been the creation of good paying green jobs. Projects like home weatherization are putting people to work and saving money for homeowners. Investments in smart grid technology and batteries for plug in vehicles are preparing us for a long-term clean energy economy. EPA has obligated more than $7 billion for projects like refurbished drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, or environmental cleanups of contaminated sites that can be used for re-development.

That’s not just about short-term job creation – it’s about building a new foundation for prosperity. Poison in the ground means poison in the economy. A weak environment means a weak consumer base. And unhealthy air means an unhealthy atmosphere for investments. But clean, healthy communities are good places for families to buy homes and for businesses to invest and create jobs.

We are also engaged in a broad effort to get America running on clean energy. That will mean not only clean air and clear skies, but job opportunities and cost savings for all Americans. Throughout the economic fluctuations of the last decade, one consistent bright spot has been the growth in clean energy jobs. Between 1998 and 2007, 37 states saw clean energy jobs outperform overall jobs. Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas saw clean energy job growth at double the rate of other jobs. Tennessee and Iowa added clean energy jobs at seven times their overall rate. And South Dakota had a clean energy jobs growth rate an astounding 19 times higher than overall jobs. This year, energy investments in the Recovery Act are expected to create 1,400 jobs through solar projects in Florida, 2,600 jobs in wind energy development in Michigan, 3,000 jobs to build a solar plant in California and 1,000 jobs once construction is complete.

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 are looking at is the entrance of our country into the global growth industry of the 21st century. The President has called for America to get in the race.
To unleash our innovators, our entrepreneurs, and our workers, President Obama has pledged to invest more than $150 billion over the next decade into clean energy. We have committed to doubling renewable energy use in the next three years. And he has also set an ambitious goal of cutting more than 80% of harmful greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. want to catch and surpass the solar panel leadership Germany now holds. To catch and surpass Japan in manufacturing hybrid cars. To catch and surpass China in the production of wind power.

We also know there are real dividends to be paid in increasing energy efficiency. A recent McKinsey study estimates $1.2 trillion dollars through 2020 if we invest $520 billion today. That’s $2 in savings for every dollar invested in efficiency – not a bad ROI. And we’re seeing some incredible possibilities there. In London, they recently replaced the exterior lights at Buckingham Palace with high-efficiency LED lighting. Today, lighting the entire fašade requires less energy than it takes to run an electric teakettle.

Or using our Energy Star program as an example, EPA has shown that we can help families cut up to 30 percent off their energy bills – saving the average household more than $700 a year through efficiency investments. That’s money that goes right back to businesses and consumers.

I know that some believe we can get the results we need with the status quo – by simply ramping 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 of the plan pledged that it would lower fuel costs for consumers and businesses, and reduce our growing dependence on foreign oil. But it didn’t work. It didn’t work for our security. It didn’t work for our environment. And it certainly didn’t work for your businesses. By 2006, crude oil prices were up 143%. Gas prices had gone up 71%. Natural gas was 46% more expensive, and dependence on foreign oil had increased to 65%. I ask you, how did that affect your business?

And simply increasing our use of domestic fossil fuels did nothing to reduce pollution in our air. It didn’t help millions of American children who suffer with asthma. It didn’t allow smog-choked cities to eliminate air pollution that doubles the risk of premature births. Nor did it do anything to reduce the prevalence of cancer and other diseases linked to dirty-burning fossil fuels.

Compare the two options we have: On the one hand, the dirty burning fuel supply we use today has only gotten more expensive. It has damaged the health of our kids and our communities, and it resulted in billions of American dollars being spent overseas each year, rather than keeping that money here in our own economy. On the other hand, clean energy technology has created jobs. As market share has grown and technology improved, the cost of clean energy has continued to go down. And it has put us on a course towards improving our national security, our environmental sustainability, and our economic competitiveness.

In broad terms, clean energy jobs are up and costs are down, while fossil fuel costs are up and the money we pay for that fuel is increasingly sent to other countries. The question is: which of those two paths do we want to follow for our future?

Steel is – literally – what our economy is built on. The success of this industry is an essential piece of the success of our entire national economy. For that reason, I am eternally grateful for all that the people in this room and your colleagues have done to make your industry more sustainable, to cut energy use and hazardous waste, and to ensure that a sector that the American economy relies on is innovative, adaptable, and ready for the future.

Our project is to make similar advances for another fundamental sector of our economy: our energy supply. And after decades of talk, we have a chance to make change like never before. We can create millions of good paying jobs while we improve the environment that is essential to our economy. We can ensure both our economic and our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. And we can protect the planet for our children.

We can also create tremendous opportunities for the companies represented in this room today. I know that the process has not been perfect. There are legitimate concerns and disagreements that we may have. But that is all the more reason for you to stay engaged and work productively with us.

Because what we can’t afford is inaction. We can’t afford to keep sending money to other countries, many of whom don’t like us. And we can’t afford to fall behind in the race for clean energy leadership. We can’t afford to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage by lagging behind our direct economic competitors. At the rate they’re investing, China will soon be able to significantly power their economies on wind and solar power – energy that is basically free and renewable. They will be able to offer manufacturers, IT companies and everyone in between a low-cost, clean energy place to do business – and all we will have to offer are yesterday's technologies. Where will those business and those jobs go? Where would you go?

The alternative is to engage in the opportunities of a clean energy economy, and capitalize on the changes that are coming. We’ve moved beyond the false choice between our economy and our environment. Today, our choice is between the future or the past; between a new economic direction or the status quo; and between leading the world or following our foreign competitors. It’s up to you. I look forward to working with you. Thank you.