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Speeches - By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the University of Minnesota, As Prepared

01/17/2012
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As prepared for delivery.

Hello and thank you for having me here today. Let me begin by commending all the students and faculty here on the work and exploration you’re doing in crucial fields like green chemistry, energy policy and environmental conservation. These are vital fields today, and are only going to become more important in the years ahead. The work happening here is going to be ever more central to EPA’s mission to protect the health of the American people.

People often think of EPA as protectors of endangered species or wilderness areas. Or they think of us as the agency that handles climate change. But most of what we do – day in and day out – is about actually about protecting people. Our number one job is to safeguard our health – your health – from pollution in the air we breathe, contaminants in the water we drink, and harmful toxins in the lands where we build our homes and communities. I want to talk today about how we fulfill that mission. And you’ve actually provided me with a convenient framework for doing that. Since I am a guest of the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy, I will focus on science, technology and public environmental policy. For EPA, the order is usually more along the lines of science, then policy, then technology – which I’ll explain as we go along.

So – like everything at EPA, I’ll start with science. Science is the backbone of everything we do at the EPA. It is at the core of our mission, and is vital to each decision, each regulation, each enforcement action. Our agency has the largest scientific staff of any federal agency besides NASA. In fact, at one time, that included me. I started my career about 25 years ago as a staff level scientist with the EPA. In labs across the country, we use science to monitor pollution levels and determine health effects. We use science to clean up contaminated rivers and lakes and rehabilitate abandoned industrial sites. And we use science to set the standards that limit the toxins in our air and water.

That is where policy comes in. Science shapes and validates the protections we put in place, ensuring that they are doing the job of safeguarding Americans from health threats, and demonstrating why that is so important. Some people like to paint the picture of EPA as some kind of command-control group that swoops in unexpectedly to shut down polluters. If you pay any attention to politics today, I’m sure you’ve heard plenty along those lines. But the truth is, crafting our policies is a very deliberate process. Setting any environmental standard starts with a great deal of research, study and science – which itself requires rounds of peer review. Crafting a policy based on that science takes months of consideration and months more of public comment. And reaching a final determination takes many, many meetings with stakeholders – from the people calling for protections to the people who will have obligations under any new or updated standards EPA produces.

We go through a process to ensure that our rules are effective, that they are cost-effective and flexible enough to actually be implemented, and that they provide the commonsense protections that the American people expect and deserve. And we have had a great deal of success with our policies. By setting standards under the Clean Air Act, we have been able to cut dangerous air pollution in half over the last 40 years. Lead pollution is down by more than 90 percent from a generation ago. Our policy to rapidly reduce acid rain did the job while costing billions less than initially projected. Most importantly, progress on cleaner air has protected health. The Clean Air Act prevented more than 200,000 premature deaths in 1990 alone, and many more before and since.

EPA’s efforts under the Clean Water Act and the Clean Drinking Water Act have given 90 percent of the American people access to clean water. It has also helped us restore waterbodies that – before the creation of the EPA – were severely polluted. In 1969, the year before EPA was formed, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so covered with industrial runoff and other pollution that it literally caught fire. Around the same time, Lake Erie was had been “declared dead” because it couldn’t support aquatic life. Today both of those waterbodies, and thousands more like them, are significantly cleaner.

We also have policies for extremely successful clean up and remediation programs. Today in nearly every major metropolitan area in the U.S., formerly hazardous sites are being restored for beneficial uses. Through the Brownfields and Superfund programs EPA has overseen cleanups in thousands of communities. We’re getting toxic chemicals and pollution out, while putting new jobs and greater economic possibilities back in.

Those are just a few examples of policies that have been put in place over the last 40 years. Which brings me to the ‘technology’ part of our work. The history of environmental protection in this country is a history of extraordinary innovation. Policy decisions that have been made since 1970 have in turn driven technological advances and developments. Setting an environmental and health standard creates a need – in other words, a market for a cleaner technology. That then drives innovation and invention – in other words, new products for that market. Smart environmental protection policy nurtures innovation.

As one example: since taking office we have established national vehicle fuel economy standards to save drivers money and cut pollution. President Obama called the new fuel economy standards “the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” They are expected to save drivers more than $1.7 trillion – with a T – at the gas pump over the lifetime of these vehicles. And vehicles meeting these standards will save the average American family up to $6,600 by 2025. On the point of technology – setting clear, long-term standards has given certainty to the American auto industry, which can invest in the innovations – and workers – to build the most fuel-efficient vehicles in our history. Last year, both Chrysler and General Motors announced plans to hire 1,000 workers each – technicians and engineers and others – to develop fuel-efficient vehicles. And to build new innovative cars you need materials and components and other cutting-edge technology. So we see growth at innovative American companies like Celgard, an advanced battery company that hired 200 employees and is adding 250 more. Or Alcoa, which will invest $300 million in an aluminum rolling facility in Davenport, Iowa so that they can meet anticipated demand for their aluminum from the American auto industry. Their investment is going to create 150 new jobs.

To give you an example of the entire continuum of science, policy and technology working together, let me run through something we’re very proud of – the Mercury and Air Toxics standards we set at the end of last year. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – or MATS – will protect millions of American families and, most importantly, millions of children from harmful air pollution.

We know that because years of science tell us that mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children. And that power plant emissions of mercury and other toxics – things like arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases – have been linked to damage in developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases. Using the best available science, we developed a policy for standards that will provide between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits for the American people. Once the rule is fully implemented in 2016, it will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths; 4,700 heart attacks; and 3,100 Emergency Room visits among children. MATS will also help reduce sick days in the workforce by 540,000, and cut aggravated asthma among children by 130,000 cases.

In other words, cutting power plant emissions will mean that pregnant mothers can rest a little easier knowing their children won’t be exposed to harmful levels of mercury in critical development stages. It means more young people – like my youngest son, who has battled asthma all his life – can go outside and be with their friends without the worry that they will be struggling to breathe. It means lower amounts of mercury in the fish Americans eat every day. And it means that coming generations will grow up exposed to lower amounts of toxic pollution in the air they breathe.

It also means technology. To meet MATS standards over the coming years, many power plants will upgrade to modern and widely available pollution control technology. Right now there are about 1,100 coal-fired units across the country covered by MATS, and about 40 percent do not use advanced pollution controls to limit emissions. Increased demand for scrubbers and other advanced pollution controls will mean increased business for American companies that lead the way in producing pollution control technology.

I want to wrap up with two important points. These are two things we have learned over 40 years of EPA work with science, policy and technology.

The first is that environmental protection is good for the economy. I’ll repeat something I said earlier: Setting an environmental and health standard creates a need – in other words, a market for a cleaner technology. That then drives innovation and invention – in other words, new products for that market. That is why new fuel economy standards leads to new hiring in the auto industry.

Or think about the MATS rule I just described. Power plants making upgrades to new technology will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls. As the CEO of one of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country recently said about cutting pollution with new technology: “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.” The EPA estimates that new demand will support 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs to meet those needs. This in addition to the fact that we have cleaner communities, fewer costly illnesses like asthma and heart disease, and more productive workers.

We have seen 200 percent growth in our GDP over the 40 years of EPA’s existence. After all that time and all that growth, it is clear that we can have a clean environment, better health and a growing economy all at the same time.

The second point I want to leave you with is that environmental and health threats are unambiguously non-political, non-partisan concerns.

The quality of our air and our water has an effect on our way of life, whether we live in a red state or a blue state. Whatever the bumper sticker says on the back of your car, you still benefit from the fact that EPA standards reduced the lead emissions from your exhaust pipe. And people of all backgrounds and parties and opinions want swift action when they see these environmental health threats in their communities. This has always been a bipartisan endeavor. The EPA was created by Richard Nixon – as everyone knows, a Republican. Its first Administrator was a Republican, and many of the great advances that have happened over the years have happened with bipartisan support.
Unfortunately, that bipartisan support has wanted. Last year Republican leadership in the House of Representatives orchestrated 191 votes against environmental protection.

Much of that happened in response to myths and misleading information about EPA and its work. To give one example, there was an assertion made by lobbying and industry groups that the EPA is putting forward a “train wreck” of regulations that will hobble our economy. That claim has been repeated in major news outlets and on the floor of Congress. In fact, one of the bills restricting clean air protections was named “The TRAIN Act.” The claim is founded on an American Legislative Executive Council report that details regulations the EPA never actually proposed.

We should not be putting our nation into what President Obama calls a “race to the bottom” for the weakest health protections and the most loopholes in our environmental policies. For those of you born after 1970, it would be the first time in your lives that the health and environmental protections you grew up with are not steadily improved, but deliberately weakened. The result will be more asthma, more respiratory illness and more premature deaths. What there won’t be is any clear path to new jobs. No credible economist links our current economic crisis – or any economic crisis – to clean-air and clean-water standards. As for the notion that eliminating regulation equals a plan for job creation, a former economist from the Reagan White House last year said of that idea – and I quote – “It's just nonsense. It's just made up.”

President Obama has directed federal agencies to review regulations to eliminate unnecessary burdens for businesses and ensure that vital health protections remain intact. But that is not the beginning and end of our plan. The President also put forward proactive measures to rebuild the auto industry, to “insource” jobs by bringing manufacturing work back to our shores, and to invest in clean energy development. He sent the American Jobs Act to congress, proposing investments to keep teachers and first responders on the job. That bill also contains provisions for an Infrastructure Bank that would put $10 billion into transportation, energy and water infrastructure – creating jobs that strengthen the foundations of our economy.

I’m proud to be part of an EPA that has mobilized science, policy and technology to protect the health of the American people. I’m also proud to be working for a president who has said that “we can’t wait” on these issues. President Obama knows that EPA’s health protections are vital to the American people – and that the choice between our economy and our environment is a false choice. The alternative vision says that moving forward requires rolling back standards for clean air and clean water. It says we have to increase protection for big polluters while reducing safeguards for the rest of us. A strategy to grow our economy by simply doing less is not sufficient to the challenges we face. It is not how we meet the needs of the people we serve.

One of the reasons I’m here is that students, educators and young people have always been central to the environmental movement. These days, we need you to once again answer those who claim that our success is served by eliminating longstanding health protections and turning our future over to big polluters. We will continue to rely on the best science, the wisest policies and the most cutting edge technology to protect our health and the environment and grow a clean, sustainable economy. And we will continue to count on talented, dedicated people from places like this University to be part of this effort.

Thank you very much.