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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Roundtable, As Prepared

04/18/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

Thank you everyone for joining us today. Let me begin by congratulating the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church for winning the Energy Star Congregation of the Year Award. Thank you all for joining us and coming together in the spirit of the Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership effort we’re launching today.

In the history of this nation, faith communities and neighborhood groups have been instrumental in efforts to advance justice, to open new opportunities and to improve the world we live in. We are honored to have someone with us today who comes from one of the greatest examples of that history – Congressman John Lewis. The Civil Rights Movement taught us the extraordinary power of bringing together our motivated faith groups and our neighborhood partnerships to work for change. It is certainly a model we look to as we take another step in our efforts to expand prosperity and opportunity. But it is also more than just a model. In many ways, it is the continuation of that work.

Dr. Dorothy Height, who marched with Congressman Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, said before she passed that if Dr. King were alive today, she believed he would be marching for clean air, clean water and clean communities for every person. That’s because environmental challenges have the power to deny equality of opportunity and hold back progress. And because the calls for environmental justice come from the belief that every American deserves the same protections for their health and the place they live.

So we are initiating today an effort to connect the talent and energy and enthusiasm we see in faith groups and communities across the nation, with the work we are doing at EPA. That is the spirit of our new Faith based and Neighborhood Partnerships – and it’s why I am so glad to be with you all today as we begin. Let me say a quick word about why this is so important.

First, it is important to our health. Heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illnesses like asthma are three of the top four deadliest health threats in America, and all three are linked to environmental causes like smog and air pollution. These health threats rarely travel alone. Where there are health challenges, other challenges follow.

For instance, education. Exposure to pollution accounts for millions of lost school days each year. It is very hard to build the foundations our children need to prosper when they are missing day after day of school, or can’t concentrate when they are in class.

Along with health challenges and education challenges, there are economic challenges. There are costs to small businesses that pay higher health insurance premiums because their workers are at a greater risk of illness. There are costs to employers in lost productivity from employees calling in sick. There are costs to communities when environmental degradation keeps businesses from investing.

Poison in the ground means poison in the economy. A weak environment means a weak consumer base. And unhealthy air means an unhealthy atmosphere for investments. But a clean, healthy community is a better place to buy a home and raise a family, it’s more competitive in the race to attract new businesses, and it has the foundations it needs for prosperity. Take for example the restoration and redevelopment of contaminated brownfields sites along the Atlanta Beltline. Those sites will be restored and put back to use growing the local economy – so we take pollution out, and put job opportunities in.

Environmental issues are health issues and educational issues and economic issues. And for many of us, those things translate into moral issues. As members of a community, we feel a moral obligation to protect the places where we live, work, learn and worship. Environmental protections can help us do this – especially when they are put to work at the community level. They can lower utility bills through energy efficiency, lower health costs through cleaner air and water, and increase the potential for good jobs.

For those reasons and more, it’s my mission at EPA to broaden our conversation, to expand the tent of our coalition, to diversify the voices of those calling for environmental change. Since my first days as Administrator, we’ve worked to reach out to communities that need support. To strengthen those efforts, we want to tap into the resources that faith and neighborhood groups bring to the table. That is what this initiative is all about.

EPA’s role in the Faith based and Neighborhood Partnerships Initiative is one piece of a larger effort that is happening throughout government. The White House Office of Faith based and Neighborhood Partnerships is forming partnerships between government at all levels and faith-based and secular non-profit organizations to serve Americans in need. We’re joining 12 other Federal agencies – from Veterans Affairs to USDA, to Health and Human Services – that are forming partnerships with faith- and community-based groups and leaders.

Let me point out that the formation of EPA’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships fulfills the top recommendation made to the President by the Advisory Council’s Task Force on Environment and Climate change. I mention that so we can recognize some of the members of that Task Force who are here with us today. First, Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Senior Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist church. Also, Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, a leader in the Interfaith Power and Light Movement, and a friend of our wonderful Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. Thank you both for the work you’ve put into making this happen.

Finally, partnering with faith institutions is an important part of our work because of the vital role environmental stewardship and caring for creation plays in the faith tradition. I come from a Catholic home and attended Catholic school. Like so many religions, mine taught me to have an enormous respect for nature and a strong responsibility to steward the resources and gifts given to us.

We want the environmental conversation to be talked about and acted on in all the places where people come together. To embrace our moral obligations to creation, to end cycles of poverty by improving our health and securing our economy, we must work together. EPA will help, not just by starting the conversation and bringing communities together, but also by expanding tools like environmental education, community greening efforts, Sunday school environmental classes and smart growth activities.

We’ll also develop training and education classes on topics like energy efficiency, sustainability and climate change. And we’ll build the capacity of faith- and neighborhood-based groups to promote environmental stewardship through state and federal training programs, as well as participation in intensive training from EPA’s Crisis Response Team.

With your help, we can strengthen our efforts to clean up our air, land and water…to fight for environmental justice and relieve the burdens of pollution in poor and minority communities…to protect the planet we all call home and to safeguard the creation that has been given to us to steward. It’s about working with people who know their communities best build a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous future for everyone. I look forward to working with all of you, and hearing your comments. Thank you very much. I’d be happy to answer any questions.