Administrator Michael Regan, Remarks For Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, As Prepared for Delivery
May 7, 2021
It’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me to join you.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet with all of you early on in this Administration. As I understand it, an EPA Administrator hasn’t attended one of these meetings in quite a while, so I’m especially glad to be here to reinforce how important this committee is to me.
Since being sworn in a few months ago, something I’ve repeated to EPA staff is that we’re going to “move with a sense of urgency” when it comes to addressing climate change, to advancing environmental justice, to restoring science as our guide – because what all of these priorities really come down to is, protecting the future for our children.
And, like all of you, I can’t think of anything more important than that – or anything that so clearly underscores EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment.
I have a seven-year-old son, Matthew. He’s an incredible kid. He recently told me and my wife that he was gathering all his friends at school to help pick up litter. I don’t know where he gets it…
As a parent, I think about his future every day. I think about the kind of future he and all our children, throughout every community in America, deserve to have.
So, that’s what I mean when I say we have to move with urgency, because it’s our children’s health and safety that’s on the line – and every minute counts.
Someone who also understands and feels that urgency is President Biden. He isn’t wasting a minute – not just in terms of getting the pandemic under control or putting shots in arms, but also in terms of confronting the environmental challenges we face, challenges that disproportionately harm our children.
During his first days in office, the President issued a slate of Executive Orders that set clear priorities for this administration to protect public health, address the climate crisis, and deliver environmental justice – all while restoring science as the backbone of our decision-making.
EPA is at the heart of that agenda, and that means we’re going to play an integral role in protecting the health of all our children.
I believe that to truly understand the soul of a nation, we can look at how well our children are doing and whether their health and safety are being prioritized. As we all know, some of our kids are doing very well. But far too many, especially our children of color and those from low-income households, are being left behind.
I was in St. Louis last week, where I met with faith leaders to discuss our climate and environmental justice agenda. We talked about how in St. Louis, Black children are nearly 2.5 times more likely than white children to suffer from blood-lead poisoning and face higher exposure rates to mold and air pollutants that trigger asthma.
Of course, these health disparities aren’t unique to St. Louis. It’s the reality for too many communities of color in this country. And we know that when our children’s health is negatively affected, their education is negatively affected, and so goes their entire futures.
The impacts of climate change will only worsen these health inequities for our children. Low-income communities are the least likely to have the means to prepare and recover from disasters, and kids are most vulnerable to the disruptions and effects from these disasters.
We cannot allow these threats to our children’s health and safety to persist.
EPA, along with the entire Biden-Harris Administration, is committed to correcting these historic wrongs. I recently issued a directive to all EPA staff on environmental justice, because I believe it’s important to be explicit about the full meaning of this mission, so that our staff have clear direction from me on ways we can make a tangible difference in peoples’ lives – and children’s lives.
President Biden is dedicated to this mission and to improving the health of our children. The American Jobs Plan would invest $20 billion to transition at least 20 percent of our yellow school bus fleet to electric through a new Clean Buses for Kids Program at EPA. These investments would put the United States on a path to achieve 100 percent clean school buses. That means cleaner, healthier air for our kids on their way to and from school.
The plan also calling for replacing 100% of lead pipes that plague too many American communities and harm our children, especially our children of color and those from lower income households.
Advancing environmental justice and protecting children’s health is our responsibility. It is our obligation. And it will be part of our DNA at EPA.
I want to make one final point that is central to all our work. President Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum on scientific integrity. In that memo, he made clear that it’s the Administration’s policy to make “evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.”
Those will be the words – and actions – that we live by as we pursue our work to tackle climate change, to advance environmental justice, to safeguard our drinking water, and to protect our families from harmful pesticides and toxic chemicals. In the words of my predecessor, Lisa Jackson, science will be our “compass” once again. And part of that is recognizing that children face unique risks as they grow.
So, we have an ambitious agenda to fulfill. But we need all of you – we need your wisdom, your passion, your commitment to the wellbeing of our children and our mothers – to achieve it.
I’m looking forward to the soon-to-be completed recommendations on healthy schools and to CHPAC’s response to the new charge being launched later today on exposure assessments for youth working in agriculture.
As EPA Administrator and as a parent, I’m deeply grateful for all that you do. I know that serving on this committee is a big time-commitment and that you serve in a volunteer capacity. Please know that your expertise is invaluable to all of us at EPA – and to improving the lives of all our children.
Until every child can safely drink water from the faucet, inhale a full, clean breath of fresh air, and play outdoors, without risk of environmental hazard or harm, our work continues.