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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the 2010 National League of Cities Meeting, As Prepared

As prepared for delivery.

Thank you for welcoming me and so many of my partners from the Administration. It’s good to be back again this year – especially after visiting so many of your cities, meeting with so many of your constituents and talking to so many of you. When I was here last year I encouraged you turn your cities into “incubators of innovations for the next phase of green jobs and environmental protection.” In the year’s time since I said that, I’ve traveled the country and seen it brought to life in city after city. I’ve seen a green street that is using both traditional and innovative ideas to clean up local waters and cut energy costs. I’ve seen wind farms and solar projects that are putting Americans to work in good paying jobs. I’ve been to landfills where methane that once polluted the atmosphere is being trapped and used as a clean, free source of energy. One of the most touching examples was on a trip to my old hometown, New Orleans. The residents who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina…who had their homes destroyed and their lives turned upside down…are today moving into cutting-edge green homes. My mother lost everything she had in that storm – including the house where I grew up. When I went back, I learned that developers are going to turn my old neighborhood into a sustainable, green community.

I have undeniable evidence that – in every corner of this country – people are developing new ideas and inventions. We have a rare opportunity to harness this creative energy, to create good jobs and address our urgent environmental issues at the same time.

Now, the first step is to do away with the misconception that we must choose between our economy and our environment. We need to see that that choice is a false choice. Here’s the truth: well-conceived environmental protection is good for economic growth. Let me repeat that: environmental protection is good for economic growth. Don’t get me wrong – environmental regulations are not free. But the money that’s spent is an investment in our country – an investment in your cities – and one that pays for itself. Environmental protection makes us healthier and reduces the prevalence of diseases that burden millions of families and raise costs on small businesses that try to provide health care to their workers.

Environmental protection also makes our communities more prosperous. You all know that better than anyone. I know you understand the words of man who said to me, “Businesses come to communities like parents come to colleges. They look at the environment to make sure it’s healthy…They look at the people to make sure they’re getting what they need to thrive…They want to know that this place means a better future…And they don’t put their money down if they don’t like what they see.” A clean, green, 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.

These are two reasons why our environment is essential to our economy. But what I want to focus on today is the vital role environmentalism plays as a critical driver of the innovation and invention I just spoke of. In one of his columns this month, Thomas Friedman wrote that “America still has the best innovation culture in the world.” …He immediately followed that by saying, “But we need better policies to nurture it.” That is what smart environmental protection does. It creates a need – in other words, a market for clean technology – and then drives innovation and invention – in other words, new products for that market. This is our convenient truth: smart environmental protection creates jobs.

That may be a difficult idea for some folks to handle. Luckily, history and the facts are on our side. Since 1980 the emissions of six dangerous air pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, lead poisoning and more decreased 54 percent. At the same time, gross domestic product grew by 126 percent. That means we made huge reductions in air pollution at the same time that more cars went on the road…more power plants went on line…and more buildings went up. The question is: How does that happen? The answer is: innovation.

America is home to a world-leading environmental technology industry. In 2007 environmental firms and small businesses in the US generated $282 billion in revenues and $40 billion in exports – and supported 1.6 million American jobs. Take for example New Jersey’s Engelhard Corporation, which led the commercial production of the catalytic converter. Today catalytic converters and unleaded gasoline are standard for every car. 30 years ago – when EPA used the Clean Air Act to phase them in – they were extremely controversial. Many major automakers opposed them. The Chamber of Commerce claimed, and I quote, “entire industries might collapse.” Using the Clean Air Act in this way was said to be a poison pill for our economy – something that sounds all too familiar around Washington today. Yet, the auto industry survived. Dangerous lead pollution in our air is 92 percent lower than it was in 1980. By 1985 the reductions of lead in our environment had estimated health benefits of $17 billion per year – paying back the cost of the rule 10 to 13 times. In 2006, the Engelhard Corporation was bought for $5 billion.

A new environmental rule led to new innovations, which led to new jobs. We’ve seen that same drama play out again and again.

We saw it during the phase out of CFCs – the chemicals in aerosol cans and refrigerants that we causing a hole in the ozone. Opponents of new rules predicted shutdowns of supermarket coolers and air conditioners for schools and hospitals. Manufacturers that used CFCs thought the transition would be impossible. The doom-and-destruction never came to pass. Refrigerators and air conditioners stayed on. Manufacturers found innovative alternatives that worked better than CFCs. The cleaner refrigeration technology developed to meet the new standards was exported overseas – giving American companies new economic opportunities.

Or consider the Clean Air Act amendments in 1990. During the debate, the auto industry testified that no technology existed that would allow them to comply with tailpipe standards in the amendments. The amendments passed and American innovators went to work. By 1993 the technology existed.

Again and again innovations have cut costs, created jobs, and strengthened our health and environmental protections. To unlock that potential today, we need to move beyond the old disputes and work in partnership on new innovations. Partnerships like the clean cars program – which took shape when President Obama brought together automakers, autoworkers, governors from across the country, and environmental advocates to craft an historic agreement. Cleaner car standards will mean 950 million tons of carbon pollution cut from our skies; $3000 in savings for drivers of clean cars, and $2.3 billion that can stay at home in our economy rather than buying oil from overseas.

It will also mean new innovation. American scientists can step up to produce new composite materials that make cars lighter, safer and more fuel efficient. Our entrepreneurs can take the lead in advanced battery technology for plug-in hybrids and electric cars. And manufacturers across the country – manufacturers in your communities – can produce these new components – which they can then sell to automakers in the US and around the globe. New environmental protections. New innovations. New jobs.

This is the direction we are moving in 2010 as well. We’re developing air pollution standards that we know will foster new innovation – and we’re working in partnership with utility companies to figure out how we get there. We’re boosting the production and use of advanced biofuels to break our dependence on foreign oil. Clarity on regulations will promote investments in research to expand the uses and environmental benefits of renewable biofuels. And of course, we’re continuing to face down our climate crisis and move into the clean energy future.

As you might expect, we’re running into the same old tired arguments. Once again we are hearing that we have to choose: Economy? Or environment? Most drastically, we are seeing efforts to further delay EPA action to reduce greenhouse gases. This is happening despite the overwhelming science on the dangers of climate change; despite the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision that EPA must use the Clean Air Act to reduce the proven threat of greenhouse gases; and despite the fact that leaving this problem for our children to solve is an act of breathtaking negligence.

Supposedly these efforts have been put forward to protect jobs. In reality, they will have serious negative economic effects. The clean cars program could be put on indefinite hold, leaving American automakers once again facing a patchwork of state standards. Without clear greenhouse gas regulations, there will be little incentive to invest in clean energy jobs. America will fall further behind our international competitors in the race for clean energy innovation. Finally, the economic costs of unchecked climate change will be orders of magnitude higher for the next generation than it would be for us to take action today. I can’t in good conscience support any measure that passes that burden on to my two sons, and to their children. I find it hard to believe that any parent could say to their child, “We’re going to wait to act.”

We can protect our environment and win the fight against climate change. Not by shouting down the other side, or out-maneuvering them in congress – but by capitalizing on America’s strengths: ingenuity, invention and innovation. The strengths I know you see every day in your cities.

That approach would be a return to basics – which is appropriate for the EPA in 2010. This year marks EPA’s 40th Anniversary. When EPA began 40 years ago, the first Administrator William Ruckelshaus wrote “The technology which has bulldozed its way across the environment must now be employed to remove impurities from the air, to restore vitality to our rivers and streams, to recycle the waste that is the ugly by-product of our prosperity.” That is just as true now as it was then.

It’s time to stop denying that obvious truth, stop playing on the politics of delay and denial, and start thinking more broadly about what is going to help us all move forward together. At no point in our history has any problem been solved by “waiting another year to act” or burying our heads in the sand. Progress is made by seeing – in our greatest challenges – all the possibilities for building a healthier, more prosperous future, and bringing the best we have to offer to the table. It’s what we’ve done before. It’s what we have to do again today. It’s not something we can leave for tomorrow. Thank you very much.