Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at NWF Annual Conference, As Prepared05/02/2014
|I want to start by thanking Larry Schweiger for his tremendous leadership at NWF. Let me add my voice to the chorus of folks that are wishing you well in retirement, Larry. Something tells me you’ll still be part of the action, though. And I welcome that. Let me also just congratulate Collin O’Mara, the incoming President and CEO. Collin, you have some big shoes to fill, but I know you’re up to the task.|
Before I get into it—let me just say my heart goes out to the families in the Baltimore area struck by the flooding and landslides. I wish them a speedy recovery.
Wednesday night, I had the privilege of attending the Conservation Awards Dinner, where President Clinton and others were honored. President Clinton received the “Ding Darling” conservation award. As you know—it was one of Ding’s cartoons—and his passion for conservation—that breathed life into this organization.
His cartoon illustrated a simple fact: we are all in this together. From New England birdwatchers and boaters to north western hunters and hikers and everyone in between, what binds us is our common motivation to conserve our precious natural surroundings and wildlife—for our children and our children’s children.
That’s what draws groups here from around the country to form the largest “big tent” conservation federation in America today—the National Wildlife Federation. That “big tent” mentality is the founding spirit of NWF, a spirit that fuels your success. At EPA – that’s a concept we’re pretty familiar with. Our mission is to protect public health and the environment, not for just a few people—but for every one of us.
For every single one of those birders, hunters, hikers, anglers, and the millions more that have the right to clear air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home. That’s what brings all of us under the same “big tent.” Since this year’s conference theme is water—let’s start with that. Recently—with your wind in our sails—EPA took action toward cleaner and safer water for all.
Along with the Army Corps of Engineers, we proposed a rule to clarify the Clean Water Act—the law that’s safeguarded water for decades. The theme of this conference is timely—“water: it connects us all”… if I had five words to describe our action—that wouldn’t be far from it!
Legal clarity should bring into focus the interconnected wetlands, streams, and ponds that link our larger water bodies. Those millions of acres of wetlands and streams double as pristine habitat for fish and wildlife to flourish. These places are also where 1 in 3 people get their drinking water from—and they help pump billions of dollars into our outdoor economy. Wild spaces are important—but we also have to focus on urban waters.
Through EPA’s Urban Waters Federal Partnership—we’re working arm-in-arm with local partners in seven pilot cities to restore waterways and reconnect people to the waters and wildlife in their backyards. In Baltimore the Patapsco River feeds this harbor before flowing into the Chesapeake—which is part of the lifeblood of Baltimore’s economy. Speaking of the harbor—we know our nation’s shipping ports also need to be an important part of the conversation. That’s why EPA just kicked off a new initiative to highlight ports that are improving environmental performance.
So we’re making strides forward, but with emerging challenges, we have our work cut out for us. Today—our world’s wildlife faces the biggest threat it’s ever faced when it comes to climate change. In D.C.—there’s whole lot of talk. I often say, we could solve the problem a whole lot faster if we just harnessed all the hot air that comes from Washington. The point is—the people in this room—you’re more than talk. You see climate impacts up close.
You feel the change in hunting seasons…and the damage dealt to fish stocks. You see the distressed migratory patterns of birds and butterflies. You witness majestic big-game like moose and bison kneel to the influences of a changing climate.
That’s why you’ve stood up and spoken out, and NWF and its affiliates have been a leading chorus of credible voices. And if you’re aim is to educate our next generation of conservation leaders, let me tell you: it’s working. It’s working in Boulder, Colorado, where first grader Wesley Schlackter just won an EPA Earth Day poster contest. He drew a poster that featured the plight of the American pika—on his poster were big, bold letters that say, “78 degrees is too warm for the pika. Our world is getting hotter because of pollution.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Pikas live in the mountains. And warmer temperatures are chasing the pika to cooler habitats at higher elevations. Wesley understands that pretty soon—the pika is going to run out of mountain. And if we don’t heed the urgent call for climate action—we’re going to “run out of mountain too.”
President Obama’s climate action plan helps us answer that call. It’s a plan to cut harmful carbon pollution fueling the problem—and a plan to build our nation’s resilience to the impacts we face today. The president charged EPA to take commonsense steps to cut carbon pollution from our nation’s biggest source: power plants. And that’s exactly what we’re planning to do.
Ding darling had a kind of foresight that’s hard to teach. He once said, I’m learning the hard way...You have to re-educate the public mind every 15 or 20 years—or it forgets everything it learned a while back." Through educating the public, NWF has helped protect our most precious places and wildlife for more than 75 years. For Wesley’s future—and the future of all our children—let’s continue to educate…let’s continue to conserve…and let’s act on climate so we can hand down a world as vibrant and full of life as the one we inherited.