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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability Panel Discussion in New York, NY, As Prepared

01/11/2012
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As prepared for delivery.

I’m very glad to be here with all of you to open the second meeting of the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability. I know I speak for President Obama when I say thank you for joining us – especially those of you who have come so far to be here today. And I know I speak for my colleagues at EPA when I say how proud we are to be a part of this collaborative effort. We are excited about the potential to do great things for our environment, for our economy and for our communities – especially those underserved communities where environmental and economic action is most needed.

In fact, I’ve already seen our work together having some impact. Last week I was in Miami and I had the chance to tour a sustainable, green housing development – a project that is providing affordable homes near transit options. One of the companies involved in the development produces water-saving plumbing fixtures. They are one of EPA’s WaterSense partners, and they are estimating that their fixtures will save this development over 5 million gallons of water and roughly $50,000 each year in utility bills. What I also learned is that – in addition to being part of work happening here in the states – the company was part of its first Export Green Trade Mission to Brazil in August of last year. Over the holidays, they closed their first sale resulting from the trade mission. That sale capped off the company’s best year ever in 2011 – and they are looking forward to hiring additional staff this year.

This is a great example – and one of many – of what is possible through our work. Affordable homes and accessible transit, energy efficiency and water conservation, job creation and consumer savings, and new opportunities for innovative businesses on a global market. Those are the benefits of smart, sustainable urban development. And I am glad to see that they are so expansive, because they reflect changes that we must make in the years ahead.

As many of you know, for the first time in human history the number of people living in cities around the world has surpassed the number living in rural areas. Over the next 30 years, the vast majority of global population growth is expected to be concentrated in cities. That change will stretch the limits of our energy, water, and food supplies. Growing cities will require not just new power and water sources, but also the infrastructure to deliver reliable energy and clean water. We will need affordable housing and adequate transportation for people and products, as well as systems to address urban waste and pollution in the air and water. And last but certainly not least, it will be essential to generate economic opportunities that ensure widespread global prosperity.

These are no small tasks. But the extraordinary challenges they represent are matched by the opportunities they offer to strengthen our economy, our health and our environment. President Obama and President Rousseff recognized those opportunities, and brought our nations together into this Joint Initiative. As the two largest democracies and the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere, the unprecedented partnership between the United States and Brazil can show the world how reinvesting in urban infrastructure and rebuilding aging urban systems is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

We can – and we must – also demonstrate how these efforts can benefit our most economically challenged and environmentally polluted communities. Without smart planning that focuses on those needs, the transition from rural to urban areas that is happening across the globe might only worsen those circumstances.

Let me also emphasize that this is much more than a partnership between two governments. Governments alone cannot address the range of urbanization challenges we face – so the Joint Initiative is turning to leading private sector innovators, city planners, academics, environmental experts, urban developers, investors and financial institutions to be part of an enduring change. Brazilian and US officials are collaborating with environmental experts and city planners, connecting with US and Brazilian companies that specialize in sustainable innovation, and working with financial institutions to capitalize growth that will create jobs in the US and Brazil, while blazing the path for cutting-edge urban sustainability.

Through it all, we will be learning the best practices that can be translated to cities around the world. With broad public and private collaboration, we can show the world how to build 21st century urban communities where the environment, health, social inclusion and economic prosperity all work hand-in-hand.

Right now, Brazil – already a leader in green innovation and planning – is preparing to develop the sustainable city of our future. In the US, the EPA has joined forces with our Department of Transportation and our Department of Housing and Urban Development in a Partnership for Sustainable Communities. That partnership is a new level of collaboration to ensure that our housing investments are in line with our transportation investments – and that they all support a clean, healthy environment.

Another partnership focused on urban sustainability is our Urban Waters Federal Partnership. As it develops, we will learn and share best practices for reconnecting communities to their local waters, restoring and revitalizing natural resources, and turning what were once polluted waters in underserved communities into neighborhood centerpieces and foundations for sustainable economic growth.

Another asset in this effort is EPA’s brownfields program to remediate polluted sites and make them available for reuse by the community. These cleanups create opportunities for local workers – many who come from overburdened communities – to take jobs cleaning up their own neighborhoods and strengthen the long-term economic potential for the places where they live. Often, the rehabilitation also serves as a laboratory for innovation in sustainable development. Re-development of cleaned up sites includes green infrastructure, Smart Growth principles, green, efficient building techniques, or other steps towards building a sustainable city.

In short, there are communities and companies across this nation that are poised to contribute to a broad movement toward urban sustainability.

We are coming together at a time of extraordinary urgency and incredible possibility. As Rio+20, the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit, approaches in June, we have a chance to reshape the economic and environmental future of our entire planet. It is the rarest of opportunities to truly change the world, and make a difference that will benefit billions of people. How we undertake this mission today will have profound effects on our future. I look forward to working with all of you to ensure the best possible outcome.

Thank you very much.