Good science leads to good policy, which also happens to be good for business.
That was the message delivered Tuesday by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson at an event hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy.
Jackson spoke about the central role that science plays in the agency’s decision making, as well as efforts to combat the stereotype of the agency as being “detached” or anti-business.
“The choice between our environment and our economy is a false choice,” said Jackson.
Speaking to students, faculty, policy makers and environmental advocates, Jackson emphasized that science forms the foundation for any standard or pollution limit the agency proposes.
In the past, the announcement of a new policy proposal has always come with calculations on cost estimates and health benefits. Today, though, the agency is as likely to include job creation forecasts.
Take brownfield and Superfund site cleanups, for example.
“We’re getting toxic pollutants out and putting economic opportunity back in,” Jackson said.
New pollution limits on mercury and other emissions from coal-burning power plants are expected to create new demand for scrubbers, which will lead to new business opportunities, she said.
“When you set an environmental or health standard, you create a need,” said Jackson. In other words, you create a market.
The recently adopted fuel-economy standards, which will push automakers’ average fleet efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, will save consumers an estimated $1.7 trillion at the pump.
Chrysler and General Motors are hiring engineers to help develop new vehicles and technology to meet the targets. “They are moving forward because they now know the rules of the road,” Jackson said.
But the economic ripple effect goes beyond Detroit. Jackson pointed to aluminum producer Alcoa, which is expanding its Davenport plant in anticipation of higher demand for lightweight vehicle materials.
“Without a doubt, environmental protection is good for the economy,” Jackson said.
Federal regulation can also help industries avoid having to deal with a patchwork of state and local regulations, which is one reason why automakers welcomed the new fuel-economy rules.
Jackson also spoke about the political climate in Washington. Public health and environmental protection have historically been bipartisan issues, she said, noting that President Nixon created the agency.
Today, the agency faces a Congressional majority that’s determined to dismantle environmental regulations.
“I do not feel like the lone voice, but I do feel like the other side has the megaphone of money,” said Jackson.
The EPA, and anyone who cares about environmental protection, needs to “expand the conversation,” Jackson said. For example, it increasingly talks about the positive economic impact of regulations.
Right-to-know laws are among the most important laws states and local governments can create, Jackson said. Nobody, regardless of their party, likes to live near pollution, and that information can mobilize action.
Change will depend on finding the facts and making them available to the public. It’s back to science.
“We have to continue to have loud and strong discussions about the role of science,” Jackson said. “Continue to just pound home the importance of science in our society.”