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Lisa P. Jackson

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Telling the Truth About the Environment and Our Economy

Posted: 08/31/11 05:31 PM ET

It's a certainty in Washington that lobbyist talking points and inside-the-beltway speeches are going to be overblown and exaggerated. But lately, misleading claims about the EPA's work have been making their way into the mainstream debate.

The most notable is an industry report that the EPA is responsible for an unprecedented "train wreck" of clean air standards that will lead to the mass closure of power plants. The "train wreck" claim has been repeated by everyone from congressional leaders to major newspapers. It sounds pretty scary, but the trouble with these reports -- there is no "train wreck."

Earlier this month a Congressional Research Service report concluded that industry's claims were made "before EPA proposed most of the rules whose impacts they analyze," and are based on "more stringent requirements than EPA proposed in many cases."

On the issue of plant closures, I take the word of industry leaders like the Chairman and CEO of Exelon Corporation, who said "These regulations will not kill coal... up to 50% of retirements are due to the current economics of the plant due to natural gas and coal prices." The Congressional Research Service report also found that EPA's standards will primarily affect "coal-fired plants more than 40 years old that have not, until now, installed state-of-the-art pollution controls." That echoed the remarks of the CEO of American Electric Power from April of this year: "We've been quite clear that we fully intend to retire the 5,480 megawatts of our overall coal fleet because they are less efficient and have not been retrofitted in any particular way."

This is just one example from the larger debate over the EPA's effect on the economy. That's an important debate when job creation is our nation's top priority, and that makes it all the more troubling to see the EPA attacked for measures we haven't actually proposed, and to hear our fundamental responsibility of protecting the health and environment for all Americans targeted as an enemy of job creation.

Some in Washington are working to weaken safeguards and undermine laws that protect our families from pollution that causes asthma, cancer and other illnesses, especially in children. Big polluters are lobbying Congress for loopholes to use our air and water as dumping grounds. The result won't be more jobs; it will be more mercury in our air and water and more health threats to our kids. As a senior official from the Bush EPA recently wrote, "Abolishing the EPA will not cause a revival of America's economy, but it will certainly result in a major decline in public health and our quality of life."

It's time for a real conversation about protecting our health and the environment while growing our economy. EPA's 40 years of environmental and health protection demonstrate our nation's ability to create jobs while we clean our air, water and land.

When big polluters distort EPA's proposals as a drag on our economy, they ignore the fact that clean air, clear water and healthy workers are all essential to American businesses.

They also overlook the innovations in clean technology that are creating new jobs right now. The CEO of Michigan's Clean Light Green Light recently said, "EPA has opened the doors to innovation and new economic opportunities. By spurring entrepreneurs who have good ideas and the drive to work hard, the EPA has helped give rise to countless small businesses in clean energy, advanced lighting, pollution control and more, which in turn are creating jobs."

It's time to recognize that delays of long-expected health standards leave companies uncertain about investing in clean infrastructure, environmental retrofits, and the new workers needed to do those jobs. These are potential opportunities for engineers and scientists, as well as pipefitters, welders and steelworkers. Pledges to weaken or slow proposed standards, many of which have been developed over years and with industry input, prevent businesses from investing in those jobs.

Some leaders in Congress have already stated their intent to roll back critical environmental protections when they return to session. Misleading claims are translating into actions that could dismantle clean air standards that protect our families from mercury, arsenic, smog and carbon dioxide. All of this is happening despite the evidence of history, despite the evidence of Congress' own objective Research Service, and despite the need for job creation strategies that go well beyond simply undermining protections for our health, our families and our communities.

Telling the truth about our economy and our environment is about respecting the priorities of the American people. More than 70 percent of Americans want EPA to continue to do its job effectively. Those same Americans want to see a robust economic recovery. We have the capacity to do both things if we don't let distractions keep us from the real work of creating jobs.