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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, As Prepared

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As prepared for delivery.

It’s a pleasure to be here to meet with you. I’m glad to see many familiar faces and many new faces as well. This is the 25th year of our partnership. In 1984, EPA became the first Federal agency to adopt an official Indian Policy. Earlier this year I proudly reaffirmed that policy, and committed to strengthening our work together. We have critical issues to confront and it’s essential that we take them on as partners.

Almost 1 in 10 tribal homes lack safe drinking water and wastewater handling. That’s ten times the rate of non-tribal homes in the US. Hazardous waste sites and open dumps expose tribal residents to dangerous toxins and contamination of their land and water. We know that climate change is not a distant threat to Alaskan natives and tribes dealing with the loss of fish habitats in rivers and streams, or eroding shorelines.

Near where I come from in Louisiana almost 40 miles of wetlands along the coast disappear every year. And the people hit hardest by that environmental degradation are the local tribes for whom the wetlands are a way of life. Families are finding it harder and harder to fish, trap, or catch the shrimp and shellfish that make up a major part of their economy. The loss of vegetation removes the natural buffers along the coasts, leaving their homes far more vulnerable to flooding and damage from hurricanes. The young people of the tribes are moving away and the entire community is talking about relocating from the place that they’ve called home for centuries.

We are here today to initiate a new chapter of partnership in tackling these and other challenges. I’m glad to say, that progress has already begun, primarily through the Recovery Act investments President Obama helped make possible. Two weeks ago the San Carlos Apache Tribe began construction on a Recovery Act funded drinking water project that uses green energy and water efficiency technologies. That created new green jobs on tribal lands and will provide safer drinking water to over 1,000 homes. And that can be multiplied by the approximately $90 million dollars the Recovery Act provided to EPA for tribal work.

We want to make sure that our tribal partners are leading the way with us as we clean up contaminated sites and rebuild critical environmental infrastructure… as we work to get running on clean energy so that we can ensure our long-term economic and national security…and as we step up to protect the planet for our children and grandchildren by confronting the rapid advance of climate change. I look forward to working with all of you, and I’m proud to be with you for the first White House Tribal Nations Conference. Thank you.