EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at the National Press Club 3/8/10:

“Consumers want to know that their products don’t have hidden health and environmental costs.  Companies must respond to parents who refuse to buy bottles with BPA in them, or that leech dangerous chemicals into drinking water.  Industry can try to resist and ignore EPA, but I know – and they know – that they resist the forces of the green marketplace at their own peril…”

I agree that companies need to be aware of and respond to consumer demand for "green" products - even if no one really knows what that means. Better yet, they should be looking at how to reduce adverse impacts throughout the product life cycle.  (See my discussion of product stewardship.)

But what hit me hard was her statement that industry routinely "resists" and "ignores" EPA.  That is discouraging and offensive to hear from the Administrator.  This is not the kind of attitude that engenders trust and partnership relationships with the regulated community.  Even as she says:

“The question we face now is, what can we at EPA do to protect our environment, strengthen our communities and foster prosperity?  One of the clear answers is abandoning the old disputes and working in partnership on new innovations…”

she fails to recognize that companies want to comply, want to protect the environment and want to make safe products.  They also want to stay in business and preferably grow by making products that customers value.  Furthermore, while "green" is a growing attribute valued by customers, it's not the only one.  At a minimum, customers have to be able to afford products that work. What companies need from EPA are reasonable regulations that they can comply with cost effectively and that they can see really benefit the environment.

What Jackson may view as "resisting" is often disagreements by companies on the feasibility - technological and economic - of regulatory controls.  Her exhortation that companies just need to "innovate" is a nice sound bite, but not that easy to do.  It takes money and magic.  Magic in the form of motivated, energized employees who are creative and forward-looking.  Hard to do when you are in survival mode and you feel like you are viewed as either an enemy or a scofflaw by EPA.

Jackson's "try to ignore EPA" is seldom intentional ignorance (a criminal violation) but a result of overwhelming demands and complex, difficult to interpret regulatory hoops from multiple agencies and jurisdictions that a company has to cope with - in addition to maintaining cost-effective production and sales.

Then she says:

“Well-conceived, effectively implemented environmental protection is good for economic growth.  Let me repeat that: environmental protection is good for economic growth…”

This from the woman who uses regulations as threats (like GHG under CAA NSPS - as she back-pedals from the crushing economic/bureaucratic burden that would create).

If she wants to come up with well-conceived, effective environmental protection, how about soliciting and listening to ideas from companies instead of accusing them of not caring about our children?  People who work in industry are mothers and fathers too.

Listen to your own words, Ms. Jackson, and "abandon the old disputes."

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