EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at the opening press conference of the NAACP national convention in Kansas City.
Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, spoke on the subject of the Gulf oil spill at today’s opening press conference for the NAACP national convention:
….Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency: …I’m honored to join the NAACP at their annual convention, their hundred and first convention. And it makes me, uh, very proud to know that this organization continues to fight the fight for environmental justice in our country.
This morning I had a conversation with the local Chamber of Commerce which has done a great job supporting a green economy here in Kansas City. I spent time with Congressman Cleaver and the green impact zone in this fair city which he has been so passionate about, not just defining, but devoting real resources to. I’ve just discussed, I was a few minutes late, I was with the NAACP’s Gulf Coast leadership, uh, to talk about the status of our work in the Gulf and hear their concerns, hear their concerns. And we’re gonna have a, another, uh, great step this afternoon, I’m going to leave here and go to a Congressional Black Caucus environmental justice town hall with Representative Cleaver. I’m sure he’ll mention [inaudible]. He’s been my host, he’s been a wonderful partner.
I just want to echo what we just heard the President of the NAACP say, we take it for granted, the air in the Gulf Coast is not safe. But it’s not because of the BP spill. In fact, we can’t differentiate the contamination that we see and have been measuring for months now. You can’t attribute any part of that to the BP oil spill. That makes some sense, it’s happening fifty miles out at sea and there’s a lot of other things going on. But, it’s those other things going on that I hope we don’t forget as a whole…
…Right now there are red and orange ozone alert days all over our country, especially in the Gulf Coast. When the weather is warm it is not safe for our children to be outside, for our elderly to decide to take a stroll around. If you have heart or lung problems you are advised to stay inside and seek out a place that has air conditioning. That is the status quo. And that is the heart of our concerns when it comes to environmental justice. For too long too many areas in this country have just had to live with the fact that when it gets hot you, we have to change our lifestyle.
So I don’t want to minimize the impact of this spill on the Gulf Coast region. I grew up, I was raised in New Orleans, my mother lost her home in Hurricane Katrina. I already know there will be refugees, if you will, from this latest disaster. With the President, what President Obama’s called the greatest environmental disaster our country has ever faced. EPA pledges, Mr. President [Benjamin Todd Jealous] that we will be a partner in trying to insure justice in this response. But we are also gonna, uh, work to insure overall justice – clean air, clean water, clean land, clean dirt as you put it earlier – for every single American, every single American. ‘Cause that’s part of our, uh, birthright as well.
Nothing illustrates the need for us to focus our attention on a clean energy future like the BP oil spill. It is but one incident, but it is indicative of the challenges we face as a country, whether it’s our addiction to foreign oil, whether it’s the wars we fight on behalf of that oil, whether it’s air pollution that, killing, literally killing our children, or whether it’s the need for a new economy, one that gives jobs to people who are now displaced because of an oil spill or who were displaced long before that oil spill because of the greatest recession our country has seen since World War Two.
We need a foundation for prosperity and clean air and clean water and clean land [inaudible]. We’ll continue to push, we’re happy to work to push, uh, this response to be community centric as possible, to include local contractors, local business men and women, and of course, to look holistically at health concerns, not just the concerns from this incident, but concerns for the health of the people, all the people, of the Gulf Coast region. So thanks very much. [applause]
Later, during the question and answer portion of the press conference:
….Lewis Diuguid, Kansas City Star: …And what about the safeguards for the workers health [in reference to the BP spill]? Are they being properly equipped to do the cleanup work?
Lisa Jackson: …I have a wonderful partner over at the Department of Labor, uh, Secretary Hilda Solis, uh, who was a representative from the State of California, a fierce advocate not just for worker’s rights, but also for, uh, people for whom English might not be their first language. And you heard we have Vietnamese, we have, uh, Spanish speaking people in the Gulf. I think the situation there, thanks to the, uh, attention brought to it by, uh, organizations like the NAACP and other advocates, has improved. People are getting, uh, the training that they need. We are still encouraging, uh, people to , uh, insure that they have safe havens, places where they can speak up if they feel that they are being pressured or may be in fear of losing their job if they speak up about unsafe conditions. I can tell you that, uh, there is monitoring and modeling going on for a range of air contamination. The biggest threat out there is that with the hot weather, uh, that is a light crude oil. It does vaporize, about forty or so percent of it goes straight up into the air so you can get unsafe levels of what we call volatile organic compounds very close to the well. You can smell it all the way on shore. And we already know, as I said earlier, that that smell just compounds the, uh, for people who already have lung, uh, or heart disease the, the health issues and irritation that they can suffer as a result. I do think things are getting better, but I think it requires constant vigilance and I know that Secretary Solis, uh, has been, uh, along with her OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health people, all over the issue [inaudible].
Question: With your meeting with the Gulf Coast, uh, representatives, what’s [inaudible] you’re gonna take away from this meeting today?
Lisa Jackson: You know, that, that meeting, uh, was about empowerment. These were, uh, uh, leaders who were not asking for any handout. They wanted the ability to represent that their community wants power to impact itself. So, from EPA’s perspective power comes in the form of air sampling and water data that communities can take and bring to their own validators and say, hey, maybe I want to take this to my universities and make sure I feel comfortable. But I think the larger issues, whether it’s making sure that there are command stations and government representatives in, uh, all along the Gulf Coast, making sure that community representation is a part of the command structure. Because, remember, in many places we’re dealing with a government structure that doesn’t necessarily have a huge community component. And making sure that constantly in this response, ’cause it is a long term one, that we honor President Obama’s desire to have this be a community based, from, uh, the community up, uh, restoration plan for the Gulf. All those things are probably the big messages. It’s about empowerment….
Lisa Jackson with NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.