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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at Craft Brewers Association Conference, As Prepared

04/15/2015
Thank you, Andrew. New Belgium is a real leader on sustainability, and is proof that success and sustainability go hand in hand.

How cool is this. I hear I’m the first EPA Administrator to visit in conference history. That’s fitting, because I promise you I’m the biggest beer-enthusiast of any Administrator in EPA history, and I mean that in the most professional way possible. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is part of the President’s Cabinet, but EPA is a relatively young agency. Actually, the building we now occupy is the old Post Office Headquarters building. When you walk in, there’s a big bronze seal of the Pony Express still imprinted on the floor. Seriously. And outside my office, there’s a huge portrait of Ben Franklin, because he was the first Post Master General.

You know all you guys that have that Ben Franklin quote posted in your bars—“beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”—well we had Ben Franklin up in our offices before it was cool. Before we start, I have to shout out to my hometown Breweries: Wormtown, where are you? How about Cambridge Brewers? And of course, my backyard is Sam Adams country…can’t forget about you guys. Anyone else from Boston, Massachusetts, or New England, let me hear you!

I thought a lot about what my favorite beers are. Look, like everyone here, I love tasty beer. And all I have to say, is that I am open to being convinced. Consider that an invitation…

There’s a simple reason I’m here: water. That simple reason, is a huge part of our lives, and a huge part of your businesses. Most Americans live within 10 miles of a local brewery, and they get to enjoy your craft and creativity. That’s an amazing thing. With that creativity comes so many different companies, with different brewing strategies, different ingredients, different flavors, different equipment, and so on.

But one thing is the same: Water. 85 to 90 percent of every glass, bottle, barrel, and can—is water. Clean water matters not just to better lives—but to better beer, and better business. That’s why EPA matters. Our job is to protect water. Today, I want to talk about how protecting water protects public health and protects the craft brewing economy. I also want to give you credit for the amazing stories of sustainability and success in your community. When it comes to sustainable breweries—you’re bringing A whole new meaning to ‘drink responsibly.’ And finally, I want to challenge all of you to do more. As we face more and more water challenges—not the least of which is the increased water stress from a changing climate—let’s commit to each other to step up our game, together.

Let me start by telling you about EPA’s Clean Water Rule. We’ve been working on a rule to protect water bodies that are currently not protected. Here’s why: in the most basic sense—if the Clean Water Act is America’s shield against water pollution, EPA is the organization that has the responsibility to hold it up. We are using it to find ways to block pollution and keep waters clean. We all live downstream from somebody. Your businesses are downstream. Your homes are downstream. Your kids’ schools are downstream. And, believe it or not, the upstream sources of water that 1 in 3 Americans rely on for drinking currently lack clear protection from pollution. Our Clean Water Rule aims to fix that. And you know better than anyone, those protected waters aren’t just critical to healthy lives, they’re critical to healthy economies.

They’re critical to your businesses and your products. I want to specifically thank the Brewers for Clean Water for your support of our rule. But you know what, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. So many of you are leaders in sustainability and water conservation—and you deserve huge credit for that. A few decades ago, about seven barrels of water went into every barrel of beer. Today, so many of you are squeezing that number down, and some are even getting to under a ratio of 4 to 1. That’s incredible.

It’s true that the culture of craft brewing, is to be conscious of community. You feel that conserving water is the right thing to do. But it’s not just about the right thing to do—it’s also the profitable thing to do. You know that you don’t have to give up your profits or your competitive edge to do it. You know, it’s funny how much your staff know about beer, once you tell them you’re coming to the Craft Brewers Conference…I asked to learn about some of the cool things you guys are up to, and I was flooded with amazing stories. I wish I could talk about all my favorites, but for time’s sake, I’ll stick to just a few.

Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan uses a new Filler Vacuum Pump design—that reduces water that goes to drain from 15 gallons per minute to 2 gallons per minute. Alaskan Brewing in Juneau was the first craft brewery in the US to install a mash filter press, which saves nearly 2 million gallons of water every year. Long Trail Brewing in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont, developed a process for removing nearly all impurities from wastewater, and is licensed to return it to the ground via underground injection to onsite leach fields. I mean, that is some pretty high tech stuff.

You know the most important thing about all these cool stories? Your beer still tastes great! So we can get serious about climate change, serious about protecting clean water—and stay serious about our love for great tasting beer. Let me spend a minute on this next one, because it highlights the importance of conserving water, especially in a changing climate. I know a lot of people have been talking about the punishing drought on the West coast. Well, it’s a big deal.

According to the most recent National Climate Assessment, streamflow totals in the Sacramento-San Joaquin, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and in the Great Basin were 5 to 37 percent lower in the 1st decade of this century, than average flows over the last. In California this year—the Sierra Nevada snowpack is virtually gone, with the water content at only 5 percent of its historic average, the lowest level in 65 years.

We can all agree that climate risks are water risks and we can all agree that water risks are business risks and health risks. Like Governor Brown said—“this is the new normal.” Bear Republic, in Healdsburg, California, came up with a creative way to confront the problem. They installed the world’s first bio-electrically enhanced wastewater pretreatment plant. It’s a scalable system that provides 25 percent of their hot water heating and almost half of their electricity. On top of that, the system re-uses up to 25 percent of the water for cleaning and wash down. Now that’s what staying competitive is all about…

Here’s what being community-conscious is all about: in a historic public-private partnership, Bear Republic fronted the City of Cloverdale half A million dollars to build 2 new water wells. Bear Republic gets to expand operations, and the city gets to expand water resources. That’s a win-win. But the drought has been so punishing—that Bear Republic still hasn’t received any additional water, because of the strain on the City’s overall water resources. That says something about the urgency for climate action. If we want the world we leave our kids to be safe, healthy, and full of opportunity—and tasty beer—we have to act on climate change. And thanks to President Obama’s leadership, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

And EPA is proud to play an essential role—by setting first-ever standards to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our largest sources, power plants. Here’s the universal thing about our climate and our water—it connects us all. And at the same time, it shows up in our lives in powerfully individual ways. So, I guess it’s a lot like the craft brewing community. I’m told folks at this conference think of it more like a family reunion. There’s a deep culture of community here. As centerpieces of your cities, towns, and neighborhoods—I want to challenge you to embrace that notion of community even more—go beyond your products and your businesses. Let your customers know not just ‘what’ you’re doing to protect water, but why you’re doing it.

When we make the case, and take action—we can continue to do the business we love, and drink the beer we love, while protecting the people and planet that we love. Thanks so much for having me, this is tons of fun.