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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the Environmental Justice Stakeholders Meeting in New Bedford, Massachusetts, As Prepared

04/15/2009
As prepared for delivery.

I’m pleased to have this chance to meet with all of you today.

Let me first say how much I appreciate the work that you are doing.

I grew up in the 9th ward in New Orleans – one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.

Before the storm came, my mother always wondered why I chose to work in environmental protection. She wanted me to be a doctor.

When the hurricane hit and she lost nearly everything she had. Today, she can lecture any expert on the importance of protecting the natural buffers around the city – the wetlands and marsh grasses that could have helped hold back that storm surge.

But it would have been nice if it hadn’t taken a hurricane to show that safeguarding those resources is crucial.

I understand – and my mother understands – the value of your work to raise awareness on this issue and stand up for environmental justice in communities like the 9th ward.

In New Orleans, New Bedford, and too many other places in this country, the burdens of pollution and environmental degradation fall disproportionately on low-income and minority communities – and most often, on the children in those communities.

I won’t stand by and accept the disparities any longer. I see it as part of my mission to show all Americans that this EPA works for them.

Right now, we have a unique opportunity to elevate environmental justice to a mainstream issue.

The inauguration of the first African American president, and my subsequent confirmation as the first African American Administrator of this Agency, has forever changed the face of environmentalism in this country.

It sends a clear signal that environmental protection does not come in one shape or size.

This is not just about protecting wilderness or saving the polar ice caps. This is about making our urban and suburban neighborhoods safe, clean places to live, work and raise a family.

It’s about ensuring that the water and air are clean no matter where you live.

And it’s about showing communities that have been left out and left behind that the issues of environmental protection are their issues, and our work is their work.

We also find ourselves in the midst of the worst economic crisis in generation. Low-income areas are feeling the full weight of the downturn.

Some people might be inclined to see this as a challenge. I believe, on the contrary, that it opens up a whole host of new opportunities.

I’m in New Bedford today to announce millions of dollars to protect the local environment and create new jobs. We have rejected the false choice between a green environment and a green economy.

We know, in fact, our economic future and our environmental future are inextricably linked.

In the case of environmental justice communities, we can create green jobs in the places where “green” and “jobs” are both needed most.

That, in turn, can help break the cycles of poverty that lead to crime, blight, drug use, and chronic violence.

We also have the chance to connect environmental justice to issues that are major concerns for the American people and pillars of the administration’s agenda.

For example, health care: The people that get sick at two and three times the average rate because of pollution in their neighborhoods are the same people that predominantly get their health care in emergency rooms.

That drives up costs system-wide and slows down much needed reform.

There is also education: When children are repeatedly missing school with asthma or allergies, it affects educational outcomes and long-term economic potential.

Not to mention the toll it takes on working parents that have to stay home to tend to their sick kids. These are setbacks we can’t afford in this or any economy.

In energy, low income communities stand to benefit the most from energy efficiency measures that can reduce overall load, cut costs, and lower the amounts of harmful emissions in our air.

One of the central initiatives of the American Recovery and Reinvestment act provides billions of dollars to weatherize low income housing. That will put more than 80,000 Americans to work at the same time that it saves families hundreds of dollars a year in energy bills and cuts harmful emissions.

For all those reasons and more, I made a point in my first day memo to all EPA employees that we had to ensure that our efforts we helping people in underserved and highly vulnerable populations.

This is not an issue we can afford to relegate to the margins. It has to be part of our thinking in every decision we make.

The work you do – that the work you have been doing for years – has nothing less than my full support. And the full support of the President of the United States.

The EPA is once again guided by an ambitious vision of public health protection and environmental preservation – and environmental justice is central to that vision.

I look forward to working with you so that we can make real progress in the months and years ahead.

Thank you again.