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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, As Prepared

As prepared for delivery.

We are here to discuss the sustainable path ahead for your communities. Before the financial crisis, American communities spent years growing and building. We built new housing developments on the edges of cities and towns, far from downtowns and commercial centers. We built new shopping centers and office buildings, some of them with parking lots as large as city blocks. The boom in residential and commercial real estate drove a large percentage of economic growth. And while many communities benefited, we see now that the approach was not sustainable. Our nation went into a financial crisis that was the result of overextending ourselves on lending and building. The result was the worst decline since World War II.

We are doing the hard work of pulling up and out of that fall. As part of that, we must be re-thinking the way we grow and develop our communities. Businesses and homeowners in Georgia, or Phoenix, Arizona – where I was not long ago – are looking for smarter water-use strategies and ways to keep cool without using more energy. Families in New England are trying to stay warm this winter without breaking their budgets on heating oil. And people everywhere are looking for better ways to get to school or the store or to work. No one has forgotten the $4 a gallon gasoline from two summers ago. They are watching anxiously as prices creep towards $3 a gallon today.

Rethinking our strategies for sustainability, for confronting climate change, for building water and transportation infrastructure and for cleaning up communities is essential to creating a lasting foundation for prosperity.

That work began with the President’s Recovery Act. The Recovery Act has put a strong focus on sustainability, clean energy, and green innovation. For the first time in a very long time, we have a President willing to stand up and say that the choice between economic growth and environmental protection is a false choice. And we are seeing the results.

Not long ago I was in Edmonston, Maryland, where Recovery Act funding is transforming their main residential street into a Green Street. They are using creative ideas – some innovative, like wind powered street lights…some old fashioned, like rain gardens and native trees to provide shade – to make their neighborhood more sustainable, greener, and ultimately, more prosperous. But the Recovery Act is just one example.

Last year I took a trip to Denver, where I visited a community that – rather than following the last decade’s trend of sprawling growth – has practiced Smart Growth for the last ten years. People there can walk to the store or school. They’re using alternative energy to power their streetlights, and saving money on utility bills with efficient technologies. When the national economy took a downturn, the community stayed strong. Rather than shedding jobs and investment, they added business in the years when the rest of the country was hurting.

I saw other great examples on the Sustainable Communities tour that I took with Director Carrion, Secretary Donovan from Housing and Urban Development, and Secretary LaHood from Transportation. We have formed an Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities to incorporate Smart Growth principles into the decisions and investments our agencies are making. Our housing investments will be made with consideration to our transportation investments – which will be made with consideration to our investments in environmental infrastructure – all in the name of building sustainable, healthy communities across the US. You will be the ones making all that possible in your own communities –and we look forward to working with you.

Finally, I’ve seen sustainability taking hold in the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. I grew up in the upper 9th Ward. Last year I made my first official visit there as EPA Administrator. I visited some of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina, including the lower 9th Ward and my old neighborhood in Pontchartrain Park. I went by the house where I grew up – which was completely destroyed by flooding and now stands empty. Out of all that destruction, the rebuilding of New Orleans has focused on making the city sustainable, and tapping the potential of a growing clean energy industry. People are building efficient homes, riding hybrid buses, installing solar panels and working in green-collar jobs. I found out while I was there that the land my old house is sitting on was recently bought by developers. They are going to turn the whole area – my old neighborhood – into a sustainable community.

Sustainability is taking hold all across the country. It’s taking hold in communities facing a wide range of challenges, and in areas that are urban, suburban and rural. In some communities, sustainability is building on a period of prosperity. In other communities, sustainability is rebuilding after our economic downturn. In my old community, it is a response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

But sustainability should be part of the future in all of our communities. I’m glad we have a chance to talk about that future today. Thank you very much.