Let me express my gratitude to everyone at Chicago 2016. I’m thrilled that you’re making environmental protection one of the pillars of your work.
We have a range of ambitious goals and aspirations for Chicago 2016 – but before I get to that, I want to spend a moment on where we are in 2009. It’s important to understand that if we hope to reach those goals, we have to start building our foundation today.
This is a unique moment. On the one hand, we have the most significant economic challenges that we’ve seen in generations. On the other hand, we have no time to lose in confronting climate change and whole host of other environmental issues. Fortunately, President Obama has made clear that we don’t have to choose between a green economy and a green environment. In fact, we’re moving forward with environmental priorities specifically because of our economic challenges – not in spite of them.
The Recovery Act contains more than $80 billion for sustainable, innovative clean energy projects. We’re working to double renewable energy use in the next three years, and have a goal to cut more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury. We also plan to invest $150 billion over ten years in energy research and development – including energy conservation techniques that cut costs and create jobs. We see some incredible possibilities with energy efficiency. In London, they recently replaced the exterior lights at Buckingham Palace with high-efficiency LED lighting. Today, lighting the entire façade requires less energy than it takes to run an electric teakettle.
In response to the downturns in our communities, we’re investing in energy projects that will boost local economies. A central initiative of the Recovery Act provides billions of dollars to weatherize low-income housing. That will put more than 80,000 Americans to work – while it saves families hundreds of dollars a year in energy bills. We also get a good cut in greenhouse gas emissions in the bargain. It helps communities that stand to benefit the most from higher employment, lower electricity bills, and cleaner air – all in one policy.
We’re also putting people to work by refocusing on core priorities – our “meat and potatoes” issues like air pollution, water quality, and toxic cleanups. EPA is currently investing more than $7 billion in “shovel ready” projects along those lines – one of which I recently awarded here in Chicago.
Last month we were here to award funds for job training on local environmental cleanups. That not only puts a job in the community. It opens up a world of economic potential by removing pollution and making better places for people to buy a house or start a business.
In another important initiative – which we’ll hear more about later - the President has mobilized us to protect the Great Lakes, and budgeted $475 million to spark that important work.
Finally, we see new evidence each day that the nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy. We are hard at work to get America running on clean energy so that we can create millions of new jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and slash the amount of pollution in our air, including the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
This is an aggressive energy and environmental agenda. It has allowed us to do more in these first 8 months than was done in the last 8 years. And it’s moved us down the path towards events like the world’s first blue-green Olympic games.
Now, when I started as Administrator of the EPA, I was fully prepared to talk about cleanups, water quality, climate change and clean energy. I wasn’t expecting was to spend so much time talking about sports. But this is actually not the first time it’s come up.
Earlier this year EPA had a chance to partner on a sustainability project at the Meadowlands stadium in my former home state of New Jersey. This is – for those of you who may not know – where the New York Giants and New York Jets play. They’re working with EPA and the local community to put into place many of the sustainable strategies that Chicago 2016 has proposed. They want their new stadium to be a “beacon of green.”
Improvements at the new Meadowlands will help cut out a fourth of their water use, increase recycling by 25 percent, and cut almost 1.7 metric tons of CO2 from the air during the construction and first year of operations.
Besides being more interesting than announcements about policy and regulations, this is also an amazing platform for the environmental movement. There are lots of people out there who don’t love anything they way they love their teams – especially when you’re talking the Giants and the Jets. As EPA Administrator, I might not be able to reach them with 1,000 press conferences or 10,000 speeches on the environment. But let those devoted fans go to one game where they see that their team cares about sustainability – and that might just get through. If their team wins, we might even be able to convince a few superstitious sports fans that recycling is good luck.
So, I have seen how sports can give our issues high visibility. And there is no higher visibility than the Olympic Games.
In 2016, Chicago will broadcast to the world that America is leading the way on the critical environmental challenges of our time. Chicago will be the site of innovative, sustainable technologies never seen before. And Chicago will be the place that an entire generation of young people remembers as the home of the very first blue-green Olympics. And there is no more fitting place for all that to happen.
This city has an extraordinary legacy of environmental stewardship and green thinking.
This year, Chicago celebrates the Centennial of the Burnham Plan – which has helped it grow into one of the most modern, most prosperous, and greenest cities in the entire country.
As I said, we‘ve heard for years that to have economic strength, we have to sacrifice the environment.
But Chicago has proven that this is a false choice.
Through the leadership of Mayor Daley and others, Chicago has been one of the leaders in innovative green planning.
This city has more LEED certified buildings than any large city in the world.
It has more than 40 kilometers of lakefront parks and more than 265 kilometers of bicycle lanes and paths.
And its residents have more than 3,000 hectares of city parks to enjoy.
And what we’ve seen is that, for all that concern about the environment, the city’s economy has grown stronger.
We see that embodied in something like the Willis Tower: one of the tallest buildings in the world and an epicenter of commerce. It’s also on its way to becoming one of the greenest buildings in the world.
But Chicago’s green legacy isn’t the only reason why it should be home to the world’s first blue-green games.
This city also has a history of world changing events.
It has grown up out of the legacy of the World’s Fairs that brought new inventions and new ideas to billions.
One of my favorite examples is an interesting and – I like to think – auspicious piece of energy history from the 1893 World’s Fair.
It was the electrification of the Fair that helped introduce the world to alternating current.
This was an advance in and of itself. But the introduction of alternating current also allowed organizers to power the Fair for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what it would have cost for direct current.
I certainly encourage you to operate with that example in mind.
Chicago 2016 presents an opportunity to bring together these legacies of innovation and sustainability.
This event can capitalize on the things that Chicago does best – and use that to move America and the world into a new era of green technology and innovation.
The 2016 Olympics, as all Olympics do, will bring together millions of citizens from around the globe.
As they all come together in one city, it will represent a microcosm of our planet in the years to come. And it will present many of the same environmental tests we are bound to face.
Over the next 30 years, the global population is expected to grow by 2.2 billion people.
Billions more people will require extremely energy-intensive urban and suburban infrastructure.
According to the UN Industrial Development Organization, industrial energy use in developing countries already equals that of developed countries – and it’s growing eight times faster.
In the global market, enormous amounts of energy are used to move everything from raw materials and finished products to information and labor.
Chicago 2016 will require us to meet enormous energy demands in the cleanest most efficient ways possible. Passing the test on energy can provide a foundation for meeting the needs of generations to come.
2.2 billion new people will also put unprecedented demand on already dwindling water resources.
Around the world, industrialization, agriculture, climate change and other factors are making it more difficult for millions of people to access clean, safe water.
Water needs are dire in many developing nations.
Water pollution is disastrous in places that have built an economy, but don’t have the infrastructure to treat and clean water for drinking, cleaning, irrigation and other essential activities.
And let me be clear: this isn’t just a developing world issue. Here in the United States, communities in Texas, Georgia, California and other states are facing historic droughts.
Passing the test on water at Chicago 2016 can give the world new solutions for waste water and drinking water management. That will keep people safe, prevent famine and disease, and save lives.
2.2 billion new people will require new housing and other buildings, and contribute even more to the already staggering amounts of waste we produce each day.
Mitigation will require sustainable growth strategies, increased recycling, smarter use and increased re-use of building materials, as well as smarter thinking about packaging and products as they move from the factory floor to the landfill.
Chicago 2016 will face enormous challenges on green building and waste management. Passing that test will help deliver cost-effective and scalable strategies for protecting the environment in every part of the world.
Finally, the majority of those 2.2 billion people will be born in what are today the world’s poorest cities. It’s essential that we do all we can to put both environmental protection and economic opportunity within their reach.
In planning and building this event, Chicago 2016 should make certain that every community – including our most vulnerable populations – will have a seat at the decision making table.
The economic benefits and environmental improvements should touch every community, and provide a model for serving struggling communities around the globe.
Passing the test on inclusion will help us fight devastating poverty around the globe, and build a future where growing instability is replaced by widespread prosperity.
On behalf on the US Environmental Protection Agency, I’m proud to be part of this forum, and hope that we can continue to work together to seize this amazing opportunity.