Obama praises EPA staff for pursuit of 'vital mission'

Wednesday - 1/11/2012, 6:57am EST

President Barack Obama paid his first visit to the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday, Jan. 10, in order to thank agency employees for work he said touches the lives over every American on a daily basis.

"You help make sure that the air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we eat are safe," Obama said, in his speech at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. "You protect the environment not just for our children but their children. And you keep us moving towards energy independence."

The President discussed recently announced standards that protect Americans from mercury and other airborne pollutants as an example of the agency's "vital mission." The new standards, he said, would protect thousands of adults from heart attacks and children from asthma. He also touched on the EPA's work to reduce acid rain, to clean up drinking water and to safeguard the environment.

"We established new fuel economy standards, a historic accomplishment that is going to slash oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels, dramatically reduces pollution that contributes to climate change, and saves consumers thousands of dollars at the pump, which they can then go spend on something else," Obama said.

Obama also singled out the efforts of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, whom he called "outstanding."

"Not only is she good on policy, not only is she tough and able to present the EPA's mission so effectively to the public, but she also has your back," Obama said, eliciting applause from the crowd. "She is an advocate on behalf of all the people who work so hard here at the EPA."

While acknowledging that every federal agency has room to improve, Obama challenged his audience to find ways to ensure taxpayers were getting their money's worth from them as they worked toward achieving their common goals.

"But I believe we can do it, and you've shown me that we can do it over these last three years," he said. "So I could not be prouder of the work that you all do every single day as federal employees. I know the hours can be long. I know that sometimes spending time getting these policies right means less time at home than you'd like, and you're missing birthday parties, or you're missing a soccer game, and the spouse is not happy with you. I know a little bit about that sometimes. I know these jobs are demanding.

"But I also know what compelled you to enter public service in the first place — and that's the idea that you could make a difference; that you could leave behind a planet that is a little cleaner, a little safer than the one we inherited."