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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the National Black Chamber of Commerce, As Prepared

As prepared for delivery.

I’m glad to see so many of you here. I’m sure some folks are still in bed after their night out at The Park last night. But I’m grateful to those of you who made it.

We have a great deal to talk about. First, I know it may seem like an odd fit for the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to come and speak to a national chamber of commerce.

I’ve worked in environmental protection for more than 20 years. In that time, I’ve been in countless situations where environmental priorities on the one hand were weighed – and often, outweighed – by economic concerns on the other hand. These two critical issues of environmental protection and economic growth are often presented as incompatible. I’m sure that in its 16 years of existence, this chamber has fought some of its own battles on that point.

But these days we’re seeing a long-overdue shift in the understanding of that intersection between our economy and our environment. It’s something I’ve seen emerge more and more in recent years.

When I worked on environmental issues in New Jersey, one of our greatest challenges was the pollution in the Passaic River. The river today is still heavily contaminated with industrial waste, trash, and dioxins that can cause cancer. It’s not safe to swim there or to eat any fish that come out of the river. And in recent years, efforts at cleaning up the water have stalled. As a result, no one will invest in the local communities. Opportunities for recreation or development along what would be prime water-front property aren’t there. The environmental degradation has created a blight that is self-reinforcing.

On the other side of the coin is the Gold Coast – an area of former industrial sites on the West side of the Hudson River. You may know the Gold Coast because today it has some of the most valuable real estate in the country. Much of the development there has taken place on Brownfields sites – formerly contaminated industrial lots that were cleaned up and rehabilitated. Those sites are now back in the local economy. Rather than languishing as unsafe, empty lots, they’ve become part of the rush of growing businesses and opportunities. In the last few years, companies like yours seized the opportunities there. They’re moving into those sites and setting up shop.

Environmental degradation in our neighborhoods – just as much as any other factor – is an entry barrier for new business. But mitigating that degradation and restoring or preserving neighborhoods is a great way to create new opportunities.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that African American communities face some of the greatest challenges when it comes to environmental issues. I know you worry about the cost to your business of complying with environmental regulations. But what about the cost to your businesses of pollution in the community?

Poison in the land means poison in the economy. A weak environment means a weak consumer base. And unhealthy air means an unhealthy atmosphere for your investments.

I’m here today because we have a chance to turn that around. Every day more and more people are seeing this change – starting with President Obama. The President has made clear that we don’t have to choose between a green environment and a growing economy. And that opens up opportunities to create new jobs in a range of economic sectors. You can engage in those opportunities and capitalize on the changes that are coming. And one way or another, change is coming.

We’re at a crossroads in our country’s history. We face the most serious economic downturn since the Great Depression. At the same time, there isn’t a moment to lose in protecting our health from dangerous pollution and confronting the rapid advance of climate change.

That is not something that we can afford to think of as a distant concern.

States like Georgia and California are already suffering through historic droughts. Water rationing is affecting homeowners, governments and businesses. We’re already seeing more and more destructive hurricanes like Hurricane Katrina – the storm that destroyed the home where I grew up, along with so many others in Ninth Ward of New Orleans. We’re also seeing increases in the “heat-island” affect in urban communities – where African Americans are more than twice as likely to live.

Those hot temperatures drive up electricity bills, which already cost black families 25% more of their income than other groups. That’s money they won’t be spending on your products. Increased frequency and intensity of hotter days also puts more dangerous pollution into the air. It causes greater incidences of asthma, birth defects, and other lifelong medical problems. That means your workers are getting sick at two and three times the rate of other workers, or that they have to stay at home with their kids when they get sick. It costs your business money. You end up paying for pollution.

For those reasons and more, we’re embarking on an aggressive environmental agenda. The President has committed to doubling renewable energy use in the next three years. He has also set an ambitious goal of cutting more than 80% of harmful greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

Now, let me tell you: I am the mother of two young boys. Any parents here know that makes me an active American consumer. I also want my sons to go to college and get jobs when they get older – maybe even own a business of their own.

The strength of the economy – both now and in the future – is a major concern of mine. The last thing EPA wants to do – and the last place we want to position the environmental movement or the climate change debate – is somehow standing in the way of the nation’s economic recovery. Fortunately, we don’t have to. In fact, quite the opposite.

Throughout the economic fluctuations of the last decade, one consistent bright spot has been the growth in clean energy jobs. Between 1998 and 2007, 37 states saw clean energy jobs outperform overall jobs. Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas saw clean energy job growth at double the rate of other jobs. Tennessee and Iowa added clean energy jobs at seven times their overall rate. And South Dakota had a clean energy jobs growth rate an astounding 19 times higher than overall jobs.

This year, energy investments in the Recovery Act are expected to create 1,400 jobs through solar projects in Florida, 2,600 jobs in wind energy development in Michigan, 3,000 jobs to build a solar plant in California and 1,000 jobs once construction is complete.

A central provision in the Recovery Act provides funding to weatherize homes all across America. That will put more than 80,000 Americans to work – at the same time that it saves families hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs. These are good jobs that can’t be sent overseas. They employ local workers, and they help to build a strong foundation for future growth.

We are looking at is the entrance of our country into the global growth industry of the 21st century. The President has called for America to get in the race. To unleash our innovators, our entrepreneurs, and our workers, President Obama has pledged to invest more than $150 billion over the next decade into clean energy. He wants us to catch and surpass the solar panel leadership Germany now holds. To catch and surpass Japan in manufacturing hybrid cars.

That means there is opportunity here for the entrepreneurs and innovators in this room to get a piece of the pie.

I know that some have said that we can get the results we need with the status quo – by simply ramping up the domestic supplies of existing energy sources. But we’ve been down that path before. In 2001 we saw an energy plan focused on fossil fuels. Supporters of the plan pledged that it would lower fuel costs for consumers and businesses, and reduce our growing dependence on foreign oil. But it didn’t work. It didn’t work for our security. It didn’t work for our environment. And it certainly didn’t work for your businesses.

By 2006, crude oil prices were up 143%. Gas prices had gone up 71%. Natural gas was 46% more expensive, and dependence on foreign oil had increased to 65%. I ask you, how did that affect your business?

And simply increasing our use of domestic fossil fuels did nothing to reduce pollution in our air. It didn’t help millions of American children who suffer with asthma – a disproportionate number of who are black. It didn’t allow smog-choked cities to eliminate air pollution that doubles the risk of premature births. Nor did it do anything to reduce the prevalence of cancer and other diseases linked to dirty-burning fossil fuels. We are looking for a new path – one in which our economy and our environment work hand in hand.

As business leaders and members of the black community, you have unique role to play in the issues at stake. As we see this new economy growing – green jobs, green collar, green energy – communities who may feel separate from environmental issues suddenly have a real stake in the debate because they have a chance to get those jobs.

Earlier this year I visited West Philadelphia High School where students are working on an innovative hybrid car. The vast majority of students at West Philly – almost 100 percent – are black. Many of them come from disadvantaged, under served neighborhoods. These are the neighborhoods most vulnerable to both environmental and economic challenges. But they are also the neighborhoods that stand to benefit the most from new economic opportunities, lower fuel costs, and cleaner air.

The hybrid car they’re building has outperformed others built by university teams and private companies. These high school students from the inner city are taking their car to compete against other hybrid vehicles from around the world in the Progressive Automotive X Prize competition. The top prize there is $10 million.

The kind of success in the Brownfields program that we’ve seen in the Gold Coast is something that is happening all over the country. Not only does the cleanup process put people to work – but once that process is complete, the sites themselves can be put back to work. They can be home to your business. They can be transformed into greenspace. Or they can be part of walkable communities that improve the health of the people there. Whatever shape the improvements take, the areas around them will be better places to live, and more attractive locations for your businesses to invest and bring jobs.

I know from growing up where I did that tough times in the national economy come down especially hard on the black community and black businesses. And the current downturn is no exception.

But today we have a chance to make change like never before. We can create millions of good paying jobs while we improve the environment that is essential to our economy. We can protect your businesses and your customers from the rapid fluctuations in price for imported energy. And we can protect the planet for our children.

Black business leaders should be leading the charge, right alongside the EPA. You can knock down the entry barriers to those and other markets. You can create jobs that can’t be outsourced. And you can help us increase the social and human capital of our neighborhoods. And your business can capitalize on this extraordinary moment of opportunity.

We’ve moved beyond the false choice between our economy and our environment. Today, our choice is between the future or the past; between a new economic direction or the status quo; and between leading the world or following our foreign competitors.

It’s up to you. I look forward to working with you. Thank you.