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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks on the Revitalization of the Chicago River, As Prepared

As prepared for delivery.

I’m glad to be here to show my support, and the EPA’s support, for this latest step in the revitalization of these valuable waters. It is a good day – and a good year – to be talking about our commitment to clean, healthy water. Some of you may know that 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act – a law that has had incredible benefits for this city and our entire country.

In the last 40 years we’ve gone from a time when rivers were coated with raw sewage and industrial waste, when the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland could catch fire and Lake Erie was declared dead, to days when 92 percent of Americans have access to clean waters. But even after 40 years of progress, we face a range of new challenges. After four decades of clean water protection, the American people do not want to see us falling back.

A Gallup poll recently showed that at least 75 percent of Americans “worry a great deal or a fair amount” about pollution in their rivers, lakes, reservoirs and drinking water. Clean water is something people expect and deserve – and we have a responsibility to meet their expectations. That is why we’ve launched programs like the Urban Waters Partnership – to help make rivers like this one destinations for new businesses…and places where residents can come together as a community. We are seeing today that urban renewal and community revitalization can begin with renewing riverfronts, harbors and lakefronts – as well as the waters they connect us to.

It’s also why we’re part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is setting a new standard of care for the waters that define this city and this region. Some 42 million Americans and Canadians depend on Great Lakes for drinking water. And the waters support 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in wages annually. At Chicago’s beaches, swimming bans and advisories were at a five year low last summer. And after more than two decades of frustratingly slow progress, we’re investing in Restoration projects in toxic hotspot Areas of Concern.

And of course we’re proud to be working with the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago on a range of local efforts. In addition to restoring this river, we’re happy to play our part in nearby wetlands restoration, on the work to prevent invasive species and the support of new boathouses, as well as initiatives to train unemployed and underemployed residents for green jobs.

That brings me to my last point, which is about the economic benefits of this work. President Obama has made clear that the economy is the defining issue of our time. I know that Mayor Emanuel and Governor Quinn, who hear from their constituents each day, know we must all be working urgently to create jobs and foster new opportunities for the American people. I want to make clear that this effort – and our focus on clean water generally – are firmly connected to the urgency of that economic mission. We can see that pretty clearly in the fact that the funding for the disinfectant work we’re announcing today is being provided by the Illinois Jobs Now! capital program.

But even beyond that, green spaces and vibrant waterfronts are places where people want to spend their time… where they want to buy homes and raise kids…and where businesses want to set up shop. This city has almost 25 miles of lakefront parks and more than 160 miles of bicycle lanes and paths. Its residents have more than 7,000 acres of city parks to enjoy. As Mayor Emanuel has said, this river can be “Chicago’s next recreational frontier” – and can serve as another of the things that keep this city’s economic engine running strong. The people of Chicago – the families and businesses here – know that this river is part of their lives and their economy. They want clean, healthy waters where they can swim and sail and safely enjoy themselves. And we have been glad to partner with Mayor Emanuel and Governor Quinn and all of our local supporters to answer that call for the people of this city.

I’m glad to be here to mark this latest step in that effort, and I look forward to our continued work together. Thank you very much.