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Speeches - By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the UC-Berkeley Center for Law, Energy and the Environment, As Prepared

11/03/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

Hello and thank you for having me here today. There is no better place to talk about environmental protection than here in California. The movement that began here around the Santa Barbara oil spill and smog in Los Angeles initiated a broader, national engagement. It brought people out for the very first Earth Day and led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. This state – and the people in its government and universities and innovative companies and nonprofits – continue to lead today. We see that as California initiates another important measure, its statewide cap-and-trade system to cut greenhouse gases.

The EPA was formed in 1970 – the same year that the term “environmental law” first appeared in legal literature. That was a time of rapid advances in protections for our air, water and land. The National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act were all passed in quick succession. It’s worth pointing out – for the purposes of some of the things I plan to touch on in a minute – that these advances happened with bipartisan support. The EPA was created by Richard Nixon – not only a Republican but also a Californian. And the suite of environmental protections was passed with support from both sides of the aisle.

This school was one of the first to engage on these issues with one of the nation’s earliest environmental law programs. Now – I have an honorary law degree, which I picked up on the commencement circuit last spring. Despite those credentials, my background is in science. I started with the EPA in 1987 as a staff level scientist. In the years since, I have seen that science and the law have more in common than it may seem. Lawyers and policy makers experiment with statutes and explore notions about our rights and responsibilities. Our laws emerge from both empirical evidence and theoretical ideas about causes and effects. In the end, law clarifies – and codifies – the foundations of our civic society. And at their best, both science and the law facilitate the protection and expansion of our health, our prosperity and our opportunity.

When I started as Administrator, I named science and the law as two of the most critical elements of EPA’s work. I’m proud to be part of an EPA that has mobilized science and the law to create modern and innovative protections for 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. We came into during a historic economic crisis. It would have been easy to tell the EPA to sit and wait. But President Obama knows that the choice between our economy and our environment is a false choice – and he directed us to hit the ground running.

One of our earliest steps was to resume work on the endangerment finding on greenhouse gases. This is the first administration to officially recognize that greenhouse gases pose a threat to our health and welfare, and to take action under the Clean Air Act to address that threat. We also took swift steps – with California’s partnership – to institute national fuel economy standards that save drivers money and cut carbon pollution. President Obama called that “the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” It has also given clarity 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 – to develop fuel-efficient vehicles.

We’ve also taken long overdue steps to limit mercury pollution from power plants, invested in water infrastructure and community cleanups, and instituted historic efforts to protect, preserve and improve America’s waters.

Unfortunately, many of these advances, as well as many of our fundamental environmental protections, are under threat. Since the beginning of this year, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has orchestrated 170 votes against environmental protection. That is roughly a vote every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation's environmental laws.

Much of this has happened in response to myths and misleading information. One example is an assertion made by lobbying and industry groups that the EPA is putting forward a “train wreck” of regulations that will hobble the 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 proposed.

You may have heard that EPA intends to triple its budget and add 230,000 new regulators to cut greenhouse gas emissions from sources like cows and backyard grills. In truth, we put forward a “Tailoring Rule” months ago – a commonsense plan to tailor greenhouse standards to exempt small sources, like local businesses, from regulations. A massive expansion was never a possibility – and the people citing the 230,000 figure know it. That number comes from an administration document explaining why the Tailoring Rule is necessary.

To be fair to my colleagues in Washington, they’re not getting a whole lot of help. Some of you may have seen a recent Wall St. Journal op-ed, written by a long-time climate denier who performed a comprehensive study on the data he cast doubt on. His conclusion was that, quote, “Global warming is real.” Contrary to the “climategate” scandal over emails from a handful of researchers – which was covered often on major news networks – the conversion of a key climate denier, and the affirmation of the science, got most of its attention in a short segment on The Daily Show.

You begin to see why we are witnessing an unprecedented effort to rollback the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and our nation's waste-disposal laws; to see why, less than three years after a coal ash spill that covered 300 acres of Tennessee country – and two weeks before the most recent coal ash spill in Michigan this Monday – the House majority passed legislation preventing EPA from regulating coal ash. You see why, less than two years after the Deepwater Horizon BP spill, the best idea industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute have for creating jobs is to deregulate drilling. And you see how, after the second-hottest summer on record, followed by a foot of late-October snow on the East Coast, and the reversal of a leading climate skeptic, people are still working to stop the EPA from taking vital steps to cut carbon pollution.

We all remember "too big to fail"; this pseudo jobs plan to protect polluters might well be called "too dirty to fail." How we respond will mean the difference between sickness and health — in some cases, life and death — for hundreds of thousands of people. That is not hyperbole. Mercury is a neurotoxin that affects brain development in unborn children and young people. Lead has similar effects. Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds contribute to the ozone alert days when seniors, asthmatics and people with respiratory problems are at serious risk if they do nothing more dangerous than step outside and breathe the air. “Too dirty to fail” puts 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.

The 200 percent growth in GDP over the 40 years of EPA’s existence is evidence that we can have a clean environment and a growing economy. 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 recently said of that idea – and I quote – “It's just nonsense. It's just made up.”

A strategy to grow our economy by simply doing less is not sufficient to the challenges we face. 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 sent the American Jobs Act to congress, proposing investments in teachers and first responders. 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 have also said many times that smart regulations can lead to new jobs. Right now, we can put Americans to work retrofitting outdated, dirty plants with updated pollution control technology. There are about 1,100 coal-fired units across the country, and more than 40 percent do not use pollution controls to limit emissions. The nation's first-ever standards for mercury and other pollutants from power plants – that EPA will finalize this fall and that Republican leadership aims to block – are estimated to create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term jobs through modernizing power plants. Those jobs come with health benefits estimated as high as $140 billion per year by 2016.

Let me close by saying – today there are two visions for the future of our environment and our economy. One says that we can rely on science, the law and innovation to protect our health and the environment and grow a sustainable, clean energy economy. The other 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.

After 40 years of progress, the American people still believe in the first vision. A majority of Americans believe the economic and health benefits of clean air rules outweigh costs. More than half of Republican voters recently said they oppose a Congressional proposal to stop the EPA from enacting new limits on air pollution from power plants. More than three-quarters of Americans support new EPA standards for mercury and air toxics.

It is time to stop politicizing our air and water and put an end to “Too Dirty to Fail.” We are going to keep using science and the law to protect American families. And we are going to continue to count on talented, dedicated people from places like Berkeley Law to be part of that effort. Thank you very much.