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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Brownfields 2011 Conference, As Prepared

04/04/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

It is always beneficial, as a member of any administration, to be able to get outside the beltway. It’s something I’ve had the chance to do quite a bit in the last few months. And it’s always great to step outside the back-and-forth and the pundits and talk to people about what is happening in their lives and their communities.

Of course, a lot of the inside the beltway talk right now is about EPA. You hear people using words like ‘cutting’ and ‘defunding’ and making bold claims about so-called “EPA power grabs.” You may have heard that earlier this year someone in Congress offered me a parking space for all the times I would be coming to testify.

Some of this back-and-forth – as heated as it can get – is important. We know that families across the country are cutting back and making tough choices when it comes to their budgets. They expect their government to show the same level of responsibility. That is why the President put forward a responsible budget request that reflects the tough choices we need to make. We recognize that there is a reasonable way to scale back. For EPA, that means difficult choices, but choices that allow us to maintain our core mission and not lose any ground protecting the health of the American people. I can assure you that we are working with everyone in Washington to move ahead.

But some of the other rhetoric out there is harder to hear. EPA is accused of trying to grab power. People on TV and the radio make claims that setting commonsense health standards and cleaning up our communities is costing jobs. When I hear those things, I think about how I want to bring them here. I want them to meet the people who work on brownfields sites. I want them to see the before and the after, and hear the stories about how a little investment in protecting public health turned an empty, contaminated lot into an economic cornerstone. I know plenty of you have those stories to tell.

I want to introduce them to the small business owners and their employees who come to work on these sites. I want them to hear from someone who was looking for a job, was trained in remediation and then was put to work cleaning up their own community.

And I want them to hear the voices of the American people – who know your work and value it. Earlier this year, USA Today reported that 63 percent of Americans believe "the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water." A 2010 poll exploring “How Americans View the Federal Government,” found that 95 percent believe government has a role to play in protecting our health and the environment. A recent bipartisan poll from the American Lung Association counted three out of four respondents supporting “tougher standards on specific air pollutants, including mercury, smog and carbon dioxide.” – which, by the way, we provided with the recent proposal of the first ever national Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The most recent poll I saw showed that when asked about a range of environmental issues, the highest number of Americans are concerned about contamination of soil and water by toxic chemicals.

I want everyone to see the good work happening in our Brownfields sites across the nation, so they can understand that this is what EPA really is. This is what our mission is all about. The hard work of so many of you here today has helped build a Brownfields program that is a point of pride for this agency.

As of March 2011, the National EPA Brownfields Program has assessed or cleaned up more than 17,500 properties, helped create close to 70,000 jobs and leveraged more than $16 billion in cleanup and redevelopment funds. Thank you for the role you play in revitalizing our communities and making our nation more sustainable. I’m glad to be here with you today to recognize those contributions.

When I spoke with you last – back in 2009 – I talked about the important role Brownfields redevelopment plays in creating jobs, improving health and strengthening communities in some of our nation’s hardest-hit areas. Because of its potential for engaging all communities, for stimulating local economies and for supporting EPA’s mission to protect the health of the American people, I have made the Brownfields program an important part of our work in the last two years.

If you look at the Seven Priorities I set to guide the future of this agency, you can see that Brownfields cleanups are fundamental to at least three of them: Cleaning up our Communities, Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Environmental Justice and Building Strong State and Tribal Partnerships. When you think about the low-impact, sustainable and green development strategies you have made common practice over the years, Brownfields also advance our priorities of Taking Action on Climate Change, Improving Air Quality and Protecting America’s Waters. As Administrator, I have to give a favorable report to a program that serves six of my seven priorities so effectively.

One of the steps we’ve taken to strengthen our brownfields work is the formation of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. This collaboration is one of the creative steps this administration has taken to protect our health, accelerate job growth and rebuild the foundations for prosperity. At first blush it was a very novel idea. The EPA, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development would – for the first time – coordinate environmental protection, housing and transportation investments. This seemingly novel initiative really does a very simple thing: it brings our efforts together – aligning our priorities, our resources, and our expertise to meet the housing, transportation and environmental needs that are essential to the success of any community. These are commonsense changes – and we believe they are going to deliver exceptional results.

We are also seeing Partnership success through our new Area-Wide Planning pilot program, which is helping to revitalize 23 communities nationwide. This area-wide planning approach will enhance our Brownfields assistance programs by welcoming locally-driven planning and relying on the input of people who know their communities best. It’s also another way we’re empowering underserved and economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods.

I’m happy to talk today about another effort undertaken through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. In our extensive work at the local level, we’ve seen a demand for tools and resources to help communities strengthen their economies, protect human health and the environment, and create more housing and transportation choices. To put more of the proven tools and strategies in the hands of people at the local level, EPA is creating a Sustainable Communities Building Blocks program that is an extension of our existing technical assistance program.

The Building Blocks program will bring in private-sector experts to train communities to use tools that have been applied successfully in other places. These experts also help the communities educate the public about the benefits of smarter, greener development techniques. The assistance we’ll be providing to communities includes: Reviewing codes to identify barriers to environmentally and economically sustainable development; Assessing how smarter development policies can help strengthen the local economy and save money; Conducting “walkability audits” to identify issues related to the safety, access, comfort, and convenience of walking; Exploring ways to make streets work better for everyone who uses them, including drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders; and using development to help protect water quality.

I’m pleased to announce today that 32 communities in 26 states have been selected to receive this assistance. Those communities range from big metro regions like Nashville-Davidson in Tennessee, to towns of fewer than 4,000 residents, like Granville, Ohio.

One of the communities receiving assistance is Erie County in New York. Decades of migration from the city of Buffalo to the county has led to spread-out development that is inefficient to serve and that causes residents to drive longer distances. It has also left behind hard-to-market properties in the city, including brownfields. EPA’s assistance will help the county and the city work together to identify the economic, fiscal, and environmental costs of this pattern and demonstrate the benefits of infill development, brownfields revitalization and redevelopment.

Another recipient is Hellertown, Pennsylvania, just about an hour away from here. EPA will help the city incorporate sustainable design practices, including green building components, into redevelopment. The entire Lehigh Valley, which includes the industrial cities of Bethlehem and Allentown, is revitalizing. This assistance will help keep that momentum going while making the revitalization greener and cleaner.

A final point I would like to make, about our brownfields work – in general – and things like our Building Blocks awards – in particular – is that they advance the President’s conservation goals. Last year, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, a 21st century conservation agenda that calls for protecting our lands and waters, and reconnecting Americans with their natural and cultural heritage. Among other things, this initiative acknowledges the 1.6 million acres of farm, ranch and forest lands our country is losing each year to development and fragmentation. Brownfields redevelopment can be part of the solution to this challenge, by helping to ensure wise use of natural and financial resources and providing Americans with better access to clean, safe open spaces. It’s just one more example of how this program can be put to work for the American people.

In these challenging times, it’s important to focus on the lives and communities you’ve helped change. I’ve worked for and with this agency for more than twenty years, and this isn’t the first time we’ve faced obstacles. I can tell you, from my experience, that times like these remind us what we’ve come here to do. And that is to uphold the environmental laws of this country and protect the health of the people. What has always made a difference in tough times is that the people of this country know the importance of clean air and clean water and clean communities. They know that if it weren’t for the work of this agency, they would be exposed to more sickness, more incidences of water that can't be used, more air that is not safe to breathe, more sites that sit undeveloped. If we continue to do our best jobs, with impeccable science, with integrity and with deep concern for the people we serve, I am confident that the American people will recognize our work. That is the task we have ahead of us. Thank you very much.