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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks for Women's History Month, As Prepared

03/05/2009
As prepared for delivery.

I want to thank you all for inviting me to be with you this morning. I’m honored that you have asked me to be part of an event that celebrates the amazing progress and history made by women – and particularly women scientists.

I should also tell you how much I love the theme of today’s event: “Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet.”

It’s about time that somebody finally noticed.

We are here because of a long line of women that took the lead to save the world. Year after year, through the ongoing struggles for basic rights, for respect, and for equality, the women of this country have taken on more and more leadership in the great challenges of our time.

Let me be clear that I don’t just mean the women who made it into the history books. We owe a great deal to women like Lucretia Mott or Harriet Tubman – but the quiet struggles of mothers and daughters and sisters over the years have done as much to make possible a Nancy Pelosi or a Michelle Obama as any person who made it into the history books.

A great example of that – and something very dear to my heart as a native of New Orleans – came after Hurricane Katrina. Some of the most vocal advocates for rebuilding and reform have been the women of the city. Especially women from the poorest neighborhoods, who lost everything in the storm and have had to struggle just to get a little recognition of their situation.

That is the kind of strength that cannot be underestimated.

In my own field of environmental protection, there is no doubt that we would not be where we are today without the extraordinary, groundbreaking work of some amazing women.

In the 1930s, a time much like now, when the national economy was struggling and lots of people were hurting, a woman named Rosalie Edge took on the male-dominated Audubon Society and showed a lot of people the importance of preservation and environmental protection.

She did that at a time when it was not expected that women would raise their voices on these issues.

It was by standing on the shoulders of Rosalie Edge that others like Sylvia Earle, Marjory Stoneman Douglas or Jane Goodall were able to emerge as leading advocates for protecting public health and the environment.

Another woman – Rachel Carson – was a transformative figure. Her book Silent Spring changed environmentalism forever, launching the modern-day movement. It’s not a coincidence that her book was published in the early 60s, and by 1970 we had a federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Obviously, these women played an important role in my own life. Some of you know that I started at the EPA a little over twenty years ago, working as a staff level engineer.

It was a time when you didn’t see very many women going to school in those fields and working in those roles. I was one of only two women in my graduating class at Princeton.

But I felt, as many women often do, a call to service, a call to issues of health, to using my technical degree to make a difference in the world around me.

There was some amount of striving; certainly, staying on that path ahead of me because I knew that it had been cleared by women that came before me.

At the EPA, I worked my way up the ranks. And in the time it took me to get from there to here, I witnessed first-hand the changes that took place and the doors that opened – not just to me but to all women.

It’s why I’m able to be with you here today. Why I have the chance to work with the many amazing women cabinet members and the growing number of women leading the way in Congress.

You don’t have to look far to see that progress has been made. But we still have plenty of work to do.

You all know better than most that the struggle for equality is about more than just making history. It’s about making a future.

That is, in many ways, how I like to think of what we do at the EPA: we are making a future.

We are creating a sustainable path for new jobs and clean energy.

We are ensuring that tomorrow’s students have even greater opportunities than today’s.

We are protecting the environment and the public health for generations to come.

And right now we have extraordinary opportunities to make that future. We’ve moved beyond the false choice between having a green economy or having a green environment. And we’ve risen above the past divides that slowed down environmental protection, sometimes for decades.

The quality and safety of the environment is an issue that affects all of us, no matter what party we’re in – much like women’s health or equality of opportunity.

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, I’m here give you a clear message – and I want you to know this and help me carry this message: the EPA is back on the job.

We will follow the extraordinary leaders that have come before us and do what works.

We will be guided by scientific integrity.

We will follow the rule of law.

And we will operate with unparalleled transparency as we do our jobs.

These commitments won’t be more than talk if they’re not supported with real, tangible measures that advance the protection of human health and the environment. And we are already getting started.

In a little more than 30 days, we’ve already announced plans to review the California waiver on auto emissions.

We’ve made clear our intention to reconsider a memo from the previous administration that would weaken provisions in the Clean Air Act.

And we’ve pledged to monitor the levels of toxic air pollution around our schools.

And there’s more to come – in his proposed budget, President Obama gave the EPA the highest level of support we have seen in our 39 year history.

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

Not only that, 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.

I hope you will stay involved and engaged, because these challenges affect us all in undeniable ways.

I’m happy for the women to lead the way. But I want to make sure the gentlemen in the audience know that we want them to come along too. This is an all-hands-on-deck challenge, and we all need to come together to save the planet.

So I’m here today to ask for your partnership – and your leadership.

In the month that I’ve been in this job, I often think back to when I finished graduate school.

There was only one place for people who were talented, smart, and passionate about protecting the environment – and that was the EPA.

We must return to that.

I want to make sure we are building the best, the brightest, and the most diverse EPA ever.

This is moment of transition for the environmental movement. And like previous moments of transition, it is a time of extraordinary challenges and unprecedented opportunities.

Today, we need new advocates striving to protect the health of their communities.

We have to energize new groups of people to preserve the environment and stop climate change.

We need to bring forward new leaders to save our planet.

And that’s where all of you come in.

I’m eager to work with you, and to see where the next generation of women leaders will take us. Thank you again.