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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Atlantic Green Intelligence Forum, As Prepared

09/16/2009
As prepared for delivery.

I’m glad to be here today, and to be able to meet with you even in the middle of a very busy time at EPA. In just the last week, we have taken a several major actions – each of which has required months of work and coordination.

Last Friday, we announced our intention to review 79 mountaintop mining project permits, to ensure that they are in compliance with the Clean Water Act. This, of course, is a complex issue that has ramifications for our environment, our economy, and our energy supply. EPA is working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers on a resolution that addresses all of those concerns.

A day before our mining announcement, I received draft reports from 10 different federal agencies outlining challenges and strategies for restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay. That was in response to President Obama’s May 12 Executive Order calling for bold action and real, measurable results in cleaning and maintaining the Bay and its 64,000 square miles of watershed. EPA will review and compile the draft reports into a comprehensive action plan, which we will then submit for public comment. Our goal is to have an operational strategy in place on May 12, 2010 – one year after the President issued his Executive Order. This is, of course, in addition to other ongoing work on the Chesapeake Bay.

And yesterday I visited the White House with Transportation Secretary LaHood to announce our proposal for a groundbreaking program to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas emissions for cars, SUVs and light trucks. That too follows a directive from President Obama, who brought together auto makers, auto workers, governors from across the country and other stakeholders to fashion an historic agreement on the future of our automobile industry. The new proposed standards will require an average fuel economy of 35.5 mpg in 2016 – a level that will reduce oil consumption by an estimated 1.8 billion barrels, prevent greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 950 million metric tons – the equivalent of about 42 million cars – and at the same time, save consumers more than $3000 in fuel costs.

This is win-win for our health, for our environment, and for our economy. It is also marks the nation’s very first greenhouse gas standards. I’m very proud to reach that milestone in partnership with American automakers.

As I said, all that happened in just the last week. We have been moving at a frantic pace. But the urgency of our actions is a reflection of the urgency in our nation. Because we are in a very unique moment.

On the one the one hand, we have the most significant economic challenges that we’ve seen in generations. On the other hand, we have no time to lose in confronting not only the rapid escalation of climate change, but a whole host of environmental issues that are affecting people and communities every day.

In two decades working in environmental protection, I’ve seen countless situations where action on environmental challenges was put on hold because of economic concerns.

But today, we’re seeing a long-overdue shift in that attitude.

President Obama has made clear that we don’t have to choose between a green economy and a green environment. We’re moving forward with environmental priorities specifically because of our economic challenges – not in spite of them.

Our Recovery Act contains more than $80 billion for sustainable, innovative clean energy projects.

We’re working to double renewable energy use in the next three years, and have a goal to cut more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury.

We also plan to invest $150 billion over ten years in energy research and development.

Along with new sources of clean energy, we also see incredible possibilities in energy efficiency. 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.

In response to the downturns in our communities, we’re investing in projects that will boost local economies.

A central initiative of the Recovery Act provides billions of dollars to weatherize low-income housing. That will put more than 80,000 Americans to work – while it saves families hundreds of dollars a year in energy bills. We also get a good cut in greenhouse gas emissions in the bargain. It helps communities that stand to benefit the most from higher employment, lower electricity bills, and cleaner air – all in one policy.

We’re also putting people to work by refocusing on core priorities – our “meat and potatoes” issues like air pollution, water quality, and toxic cleanups. EPA is currently investing more than $7 billion in “shovel ready” projects along those lines.

These are projects like Brownfields and Superfund cleanups, or rebuilding waste water and drinking water infrastructure. Those investments put jobs in communities and unleash new economic potential by removing pollution and making those communities better places for people to buy a house or start a business.

Finally, we are on the verge of transforming the ways that we generate and use energy in this country. If we get that right, we can create millions of new jobs. We can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and keep billions of dollars at home every year. And we can begin the fight against global climate change, by cutting millions of tons of CO2 and other dangerous pollutants out of the air. We know that the nation that leads in the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the
21st century global economy.

This is an aggressive energy and environmental agenda. It has allowed us to do more in these first 8 months than was done in the last 8 years – and we are just getting started.

I want to use my time today to address a topic that we have focused on at EPA. In these first eight months, as we have talked about clean energy, environmental cleanups and green jobs, we have also worked to expand the conversation on environmentalism.

One of my African American colleagues recently told me about how, every year as winter was coming, his grandmother would get up on a chair and put up plastic sheeting over the windows.

She didn’t say she was “greening her home.”

She didn’t say she was “weatherizing the house.”

She didn’t call herself an “environmentalist.”

From her perspective, she was just keeping out the cold and saving money on the oil bill.

But the issues that we label “environmentalism” were an important part of her life.

For too long, environmentalism has been seen as an enclave for the well-off.

Talking about the issue brings to mind sweeping vistas and wide-open landscapes.

What doesn’t usually come to mind is an apartment building. A city block. Or a school playground.

Or, for that matter, an inner-city kid who has trouble breathing on hot days. Or a black business owner whose employees are getting sick.

And that can have tragic consequences.

African Americans die from asthma twice as often as whites, and have higher cancer mortality rates than any other group.

Nearly 30 million Latinos – 72 percent of the US Latino population – live in places that don’t meet US air pollution standards.

Native American homes lack clean water at almost 10 times the national rate.

We must also understand the role environmental threats play in what some consider more immediate issues, like the daily struggles on education, health care and the economy.

Take education. We can talk about our crumbling schools and how we need to rebuild them so our children can learn.

But that conversation must also include where we build these schools. We have to ensure we’re not building them in the shadow of polluters that will make our kids sick, that make them miss day after day of class with asthma or other health problems.

We can talk about health care, but we also have to talk about how the poor – who get sick at 2 and 3 times the average rates because they live in neighborhoods where the air and water are polluted – are the same people who go to the emergency room for treatment.

That drives up health care costs for everyone. It hurts the local and the national economy.

We can talk about the need for more jobs and small businesses in our urban centers and metropolitan regions. But that conversation must also include the understanding that environmental challenges in our neighborhoods hold back economic growth.

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.

And in many neighborhoods, visible environmental degradation compounds other problems.

When businesses won’t invest, economic possibilities are limited. As a result crime is higher, violence is higher – often times drugs use is rampant – and the vicious cycle continues.

So we can talk about crime too. What have we taught young people (like my two teenaged boys) to value, to aspire to, or take pride in when they see that their communities are unclean, unhealthy and unsafe – and that the people around them are unconcerned?

For those reasons and more, we need to broaden this conversation … to expand the tent of our coalition … to diversify the voices of those calling for environmental change – even if they don’t call themselves environmentalists.

The inauguration of the first African American president, and my confirmation as the first African American Administrator of the EPA have begun the process of changing the face of environmentalism in our country.

But we need to continue the effort. And we need your help.

I want to make sure that the ideas, innovations, and actions that start in this room, and other gatherings like this, will touch every community.

And I want to make sure that – in the whirlwind environmental agenda at EPA, or the equally busy schedules at your respective organizations – we don’t lose sight of the people that need our help the most.

Those of us who identify as environmentalists today must make room for the environmentalists of tomorrow.

If we don’t meet people where they are, then you can bet that the individuals and groups opposing action on climate change, clean energy and other critical issues will.

To confront the urgent environmental challenges of the 21st century, we need to make sure that every community sees their stake in this movement.

Thank you all. I look forward to working with you.