Contact Us


Speeches - By Date


Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at Duke University, As Prepared

As prepared for delivery.

Hello and thank you for having me here today. Today I want to talk to you – and with you, when we get to the conversation part of things – about an idea that is a foundational part of the environmental movement. It’s also an idea that has taken on a renewed importance in 2011. It’s the idea that environmental and health threats are unambiguously non-partisan concerns.

The quality of our air and our water has an effect on our way of life, whether we live in a red state or a blue state. And people of all backgrounds and parties and opinions want swift action when they see these threats in their communities. The environmental movement got started when it became clear that the forces of the market were not going to be enough to stop Los Angeles from becoming the smog capital of the world, or prevent situations like the Santa Barbara oil spill and burning pollution the Cuyahoga River Fire. American people from all walks of life stood up to demand a new mechanism for preventing pollution. The EPA was created and a suite of environmental laws was passed so that government could set and enforce standards.

That was a bipartisan effort. The EPA was created by Richard Nixon – as everyone knows, a Republican. Its first Administrator was a Republican, and many of the great advances that have happened over the years have happened with bipartisan support. When I came into this job in 2009, my ambition was – in the face of a new generation of environmental challenges – to facilitate advances like what we saw in the early 1970s. And to do so with the same kind of bipartisan support.

I’m proud to be part of an EPA that has mobilized science and the law to create modern and innovative protections for the health of the American people.

I’m also proud to be working for a president who has said that “we can’t wait” on these issues. We came into office during a historic economic crisis. It would have been easy to tell the EPA to sit and wait. But President Obama knows that the choice between our economy and our environment is a false choice – and he directed us to hit the ground running.

One of our earliest steps was to resume work on the endangerment finding on greenhouse gases. This is the first administration to officially recognize that greenhouse gases pose a threat to our health and welfare, and to take action under the Clean Air Act to address that threat. We’ve taken long overdue steps to limit mercury, acid gases, arsenic and other air toxics from power plants. And we’ve put standards in place to prevent air pollution generated in one state from crossing state lines and causing health problems in another state. That is a particularly important development in a place like North Carolina, which sits downwind of its neighbors.

Along with all of this, we’ve invested in water infrastructure and community cleanups, taken steps to support innovative products like biofuels and cutting edge water protection technology, and we took swift steps to institute national fuel economy standards that save drivers money and cut carbon pollution. That last one is a perfect example of how actions to protect our environment are also good for our economy.

President Obama called the new fuel economy standards “the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” They are expected to save our nation’s drivers more than $1.7 trillion – with a T – at the gas pump over the lifetime of these vehicles. And vehicles meeting these standards will save the average American family up to $6,600 by 2025. Setting clear, long-term standards has also given clarity to the American auto industry, which can invest in the innovations – and workers – to build the most fuel-efficient vehicles in our history. Last year both Chrysler and General Motors announced plans to hire 1,000 workers – each – to develop fuel-efficient vehicles. And to build new innovative cars you need materials and components and other cutting-edge technology. When President Obama made an announcement about fuel economy standards earlier this year, he talked about the growth of innovative American companies like Celgard here in North Carolina, an advanced battery company that hired 200 employees and is adding 250 more. More recently, there was news that Alcoa will be investing $300 million in an aluminum rolling facility in Davenport, Iowa so that they can meet anticipated demand for their aluminum from the auto industry. Their investment is going to create 150 new jobs.

Unfortunately, many of these advances – including the clean cars program and many of our fundamental environmental protections – are under threat right now. Since the beginning of this year, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has orchestrated 170 votes against environmental protection. That is almost a vote for every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation's environmental laws.

Much of this has happened in response to myths and misleading information. One example is an assertion made by lobbying and industry groups that the EPA is putting forward a “train wreck” of regulations that will hobble our economy. That claim has been repeated in major news outlets and on the floor of Congress. In fact, one of the bills restricting clean air protections was named “The TRAIN Act.” The claim is founded on an American Legislative Executive Council report that details regulations the EPA never actually proposed.

You may have heard another claim that was put forward – that EPA intends to triple its budget and add 230,000 new regulators to cut greenhouse gas emissions from sources like cows and backyard grills. In truth, we put forward a “Tailoring Rule” months ago – a commonsense plan to tailor greenhouse standards to exempt small sources, like local businesses, from regulations. A massive expansion was never a possibility – and the people citing the 230,000 figure know it. That number comes from an administration document explaining why the Tailoring Rule is necessary.

To be fair to my colleagues in Washington, they’re not getting a whole lot of help. Some of you may have seen not long ago a Wall St. Journal op-ed, written by a long-time climate denier who performed a comprehensive study on the data he cast doubt on. After years of denial and skepticism, he looked at the data. His conclusion was, and I quote, “Global warming is real.” Contrary to the “climategate” scandal over emails from a handful of researchers – which was covered often on major news networks – the conversion of a key climate-denier, and the affirmation of the science got most of its attention in a short segment on The Daily Show.

You begin to see why we are witnessing an unprecedented effort to rollback the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and our nation's waste-disposal laws; to see why, less than three years after a coal ash spill that covered 300 acres of Tennessee country the House majority passed legislation preventing EPA from regulating coal ash. You see why, less than two years after the Deepwater Horizon BP spill, the best idea industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute have for creating jobs is to deregulate drilling. And you see how, after the second-hottest summer on record, followed by the foot of snow we got in late-October, followed by the reversal of a leading climate skeptic, people are still working to stop the EPA from taking vital steps to cut carbon pollution.

We all remember "too big to fail"; this pseudo jobs plan to protect polluters might well be called "too dirty to fail." How we respond will mean the difference between sickness and health — in some cases, life and death — for hundreds of thousands of people.

That is not hyperbole. Mercury is a neurotoxin that affects brain development in unborn children and young people. Lead has similar effects. Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds contribute to the ozone alert days when seniors, asthmatics and people with respiratory problems are at serious risk if they do nothing more dangerous than step outside and breathe the air. “Too dirty to fail” puts our nation into what President Obama calls a “race to the bottom” for the weakest health protections and the most loopholes in our environmental policies. For those of you born after 1970, it would be the first time in your lives that the health and environmental protections you grew up with are not steadily improved, but deliberately weakened.

The result will be more asthma, more respiratory illness and more premature deaths. What there won’t be is any clear path to new jobs. We have seen 200 percent growth in our GDP over the 40 years of EPA’s existence. After all that time and all that growth, it is clear that we can have a clean environment and a growing economy. No credible economist links our current economic crisis – or any economic crisis – to clean-air and clean-water standards. Last month, a story in the Washington Post quoted economists who said that the effect of government regulations on jobs is minimal. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data collected from business executives, only 0.3 percent of layoffs in 2010 were because of “government regulations/intervention.” That story even quoted the chief executive of American Electric Power Co – one of the largest coal-based utilities in the nation – saying that when regulations require pollution control technology – like EPA Cross State Pollution Rule and the Mercury rule I spoke about earlier – then utilities have to hire plumbers, electricians and others. His words were, “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.”

As for the notion that eliminating regulation equals a plan for job creation, a former economist from the Reagan White House recently said of that idea – and I quote – “It's just nonsense. It's just made up.”

A strategy to grow our economy by simply doing less is not sufficient to the challenges we face. President Obama has directed federal agencies to review regulations to eliminate unnecessary burdens for businesses and ensure that vital health protections remain intact. But that is not the beginning and end of our plan. The President also sent the American Jobs Act to congress, proposing investments in teachers and first responders. That bill also contains provisions for an Infrastructure Bank that would put $10 billion into transportation, energy and water infrastructure – creating jobs that strengthen the foundations of our economy.

We also know that smart regulations can lead to new jobs. As the CEO of AEP indicated in the Washington Post, we can put Americans to work retrofitting outdated, dirty plants with updated pollution control technology. To be more specific, we will finalize in the coming days the proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to reduce power plant emissions. There are about 1,100 coal-fired units across the country, and more than 40 percent do not use pollution controls to limit emissions. To build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls needed at those facilities under EPA’s coming standards, we estimated the creation of 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term jobs. Those jobs come with health benefits estimated as high as $140 billion per year by 2016, and significant reductions in harmful emissions that would – as the rule was proposed – prevent: up to 17,000 premature deaths; 11,000 heart attacks; 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms; 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children; and 12,200 emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

Right now, there are two visions competing for the future of our environment and our economy. One says that we can rely on science, the law and innovation to protect our health and the environment and grow a clean, sustainable economy. The alternative vision says that moving forward requires rolling back standards for clean air and clean water. It says we have to increase protection for big polluters while reducing safeguards for the rest of us.

After 40 years of progress, the American people still believe in the first vision. A majority of Americans believe the economic and health benefits of clean air rules outweigh costs. More than half of Republican voters recently said they oppose a Congressional proposal to stop the EPA from enacting new limits on air pollution from power plants. More than three-quarters of Americans support new EPA standards for mercury and air toxics.

One of the reasons I’m here is that students, educators and young people have always been central to the environmental movement. These days, we need you to once again answer those who claim that our success is served by eliminating longstanding health protections and turning our future over to big polluters. It is time to stop politicizing our air and water and put an end to “Too Dirty to Fail.” We are going to continue to count on talented, dedicated people from places like this University to be part of that effort.

Thank you very much.