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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Town Hall Remarks at the University of Washington, As Prepared

As prepared for delivery.

Let me begin by wishing the University of Washington a happy 150th birthday. I’m glad to be here at a time when you are marking such an important milestone. Let me also say how nice it is to be at a school with its very own William D. Ruckelshaus Center. Some of you may know William Ruckelshaus as one of the champions for the Puget Sound and as a leader on health and the environment here in the Northwest. I know him as the very first administrator of the EPA when the agency was formed in 1970, and as someone who stepped up to serve the agency again in the 1980s when it was in great need of his leadership. He is the model for everyone that has ever had my job as Administrator. And I can say with confidence that the EPA and indeed the entire modern environmental movement wouldn’t be the same without him. He has been a great inspiration to me personally, and I’m glad to see that his legacy continues to be felt here in the work he does, and in the work of the center that is named after him.

I’m coming to you today following President Obama’s State of the Union address. Last night, I sat with the joint session of Congress as the president spoke about what has been – and continues to be – the defining mission of our time in office. That is of course the mission to strengthen the American economy. He of course spoke about the urgent need to continue creating jobs, and to increase the pace of job creation as we recover from the recession that began in 2008. But President Obama went above and beyond those two points in outlining an economic vision for the future of our country. What the president provided last night was a blueprint for an economy that is built to last. His blueprint is founded on revitalized American manufacturing; a new era of American energy innovation and production; more affordable education and a fair shot for American workers; and a renewal of the American values that have made us both a land of opportunity and an economic superpower.

The central mission we have. And his focus as president is to build – or rebuild – a country and an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same rules. Unfortunately, we have moved away from those fundamental values in the way our economy has worked. For years now, economic security for the average American family and members of the middle class has been eroding. Long before the recession, good jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Hard work stopped paying off for too many Americans. Wages have stayed relatively flat while the costs of everything from school to housing to medicine have gone up. We have come to what President Obama called “a make or break moment for the middle class and those trying to reach it.” What is at stake is the basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, and put a little away for retirement.

Since the day he took office, President Obama has been clear that we need to do more to create jobs and foster economic growth. Under his leadership and thanks to actions taken by this administration, the economy is growing again. The US has added a total of 3.2 million private sector jobs over the last 22 months, American manufacturing is creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s, and the American auto industry is coming back – while developing fuel efficient vehicles to save drivers money and cut pollution from our skies. We’ve also agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And the President signed into law new rules to hold Wall Street accountable.

This is a good start, and we have to ensure we keep moving ahead. What we cannot do is go back to an economy based on outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. To get us back on the right track, the president last night named the four pillars of his economic vision.

The first is American Manufacturing. President Obama laid out proposals for how we bring about a new era of American manufacturing, one where our facilities are more efficient, and where American companies have incentives to keep those jobs on our shores and make more products stamped ‘Made in the USA.’

The second pillar is American Energy. The president wants to move our nation into a new era for American energy, where our economy is powered by homegrown and alternative energy sources that will be designed and produced by American workers. Let me say that this is much more than just solar panels or increased use of cleaner natural gas. One good example is our work with the auto industry to make vehicles more efficient. Last year the EPA took part in setting clear, national standards for fuel economy in American vehicles. That effort will cut our oil consumption by billions of barrels, allowing us to import less. It will also keep pollution out of our skies and save drivers more than a trillion dollars at the gas pump. That change has also sparked innovation throughout the auto industry – from companies developing components to innovators making advanced batteries. In North Carolina an advanced battery company called Celgard recently hired 200 employees and is adding 250 more. They are one of many companies operating in the US that have dramatically increased our global market share for advanced batteries. Another example is the company Alcoa, which will be investing $300 million in an aluminum rolling facility in Davenport, Iowa to meet anticipated demand for their aluminum from the auto industry. Their investment is going to create 150 new jobs.

I saw yet another example this morning at a local company called EnerG2. They are working on innovations in energy storage that will have applications in multiple industries. Some of you might be familiar with their work because the advanced materials they use were developed in labs right here at this University. They are one of the companies creating new products and new opportunities in the energy sector – and one of the reasons why the president made American Energy a pillar of our long term growth.

The third pillar is built on A Fair Shot for American Workers. The president offered new ideas for ensuring that our students and workers get the education and training they need. Some of the plans he outlined included connecting our colleges to the industries in need of new workers and helping small businesses get up and running. He also proposed extending support for students paying down their student loans, and urged congress to reform an immigration system that allows immigrants to come to the US and get educated – and then tells them they can’t stay once they’re finished.

Finally – and most importantly – the president called for a return to American Values – values of fairness for all, and responsibility from all. It is critical to our economic success that everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.

In all of this, the EPA has an important role to fill. Our mission day in and day out is to protect the health of the American people by keeping pollution out of the air we breathe, keeping toxins out of the water we drink, and keeping harmful chemicals out of the lands where we build our homes and our communities. In other words, the work that we do each and every day is focused on ensuring that our economy works for the American people.

It is consistent with the American values President Obama spoke about yesterday to say that industry should not be allowed to dump untreated sewage into waters we use for the shower or to make a cup of coffee.

It is consistent with those values to say that automobiles should meet standards that keep dangerous lead pollution out of our air, and that – as a rule EPA finalized last year says – power plants should have some limit placed on their emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin that affects children’s brain development.

It’s consistent with those values to say that the food we put on our plates shouldn’t be coated with harmful chemicals that threaten our health and the health of our children.

As the president said last night, we “won’t back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.”

And again – there are two ways we can go. There are two visions dominating this conversation today. 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.

You only have to turn on the news to hear the consistent drum beat against environmental protections, and that has very real consequences. Last year Republican leadership in the House of Representatives orchestrated a total of 191 votes against environmental protection. Much of that happened in response to myths and misleading information about EPA and its work. To give one example, there was 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.

The fact is, we cannot create an economy that is built to last by putting our nation into 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. No credible economist links our current economic crisis – or any economic crisis – to clean-air and clean-water standards. In fact, our experience indicates just the opposite: Americans 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, better health and a growing economy all at the same time. President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to that idea when he said in the State of the Union that “we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”

Now – that requires diligence. And President Obama has directed federal agencies to review regulations to eliminate unnecessary burdens for businesses and ensure that vital health protections remain intact. That is a good idea – but as you can see from his speech last night, that is not the beginning and end of our plan. We need proactive measures to “insource” jobs that should be created here in American, aggressive steps to strengthen our manufacturing sector, new ideas to make sure our workers have a fair shot, and strong support for innovations that will move us to a new era for American Energy. I’m proud to serve a President who has said that we can’t wait on these issues. I’m proud to serve a President who knows that EPA’s health protections are vital to the American people – and that the choice between our economy and our environment is a false choice. And I’m proud to serve in an administration that is committed to an economy that’s built to last.

As President Obama said: no challenge is more urgent; and no debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while more Americans barely get by. Or we can build a nation where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. In this make or break moment for the middle class, we have great opportunities to serve the American people and strengthen our future. A strategy to grow our economy by simply doing less is not sufficient to the challenges we face. It is not how we meet the needs of the people we serve.

I’m here today because so much of what the president talked about, and so much of what is at stake will shape your future. And you have the power to influence the direction we go. That starts with our conversation today, and I hope it will continue as you lend your voices to the important discussion we will be having in this country in the months to come.

Thank you very much.