Saturday, March 25, 2023

DEP Acting Secretary Negrin: All Climate Change Is Local - We Are Guardians Of Our Neighborhoods, We Are To Act In Service To Our Neighbors

On February 15, Acting DEP Secretary Richard Negrin had an "all hands" meeting that was made available electronically to all DEP staff across the state.  It was his first opportunity to lay out his vision of the agency and to underscore the important mission DEP has to protect public health and the environment.

He said the same things at Senate and House budget hearings last week.

Here is the text of his remarks--

All Climate Change Is Local

Thank you for being here. I’m not sure I can fully express the excitement I have to be here, to see all of you. I have been very eager to spend some time with you. Very eager to get started with our important work.

There has never been a more critical time to be charged with the protection of our environment. A charge and mission which I certainly cannot make any progress on alone. It will take all of us to meet this challenge.

In the coming months, I will be listening and learning and getting to know all of you.

We will be hearing a lot more about where we are going and formulating a path forward—together. I will be coming out to meet all of you across all regions. I look forward to that.

But I wanted to take this time to say hello. So that you can begin to get to know me. And so I can meet many of you.

To thank you for your service. 

I have been in the public, private and non-profit sectors throughout my career. And I believe public service is the highest calling. 

Especially when it’s about something as important as our environment. 

Especially when it’s about something as important as protecting the public safety of our citizens. Our communities. Our children. 

That’s why I am here.

I know many of you feel the same way. That’s why YOU are here.

I also wanted to give you all the courtesy of some of my initial thoughts. To give you the respect to look you in the eye and begin this journey together.

I thought it was important, before you heard my vision for the department, before we talk about who we ARE and who we hope to be, that we all know who we were. How it all began. That is our shared history.

And I also thought it was important to highlight just a few of our BIG wins. 

I know that, as a department and as individuals, we can feel the scrutiny and the pressure of our important work. We are often in the cross-hairs on any number of issues. I know that and will have your backs. 

I will be under the same scrutiny. That’s ok.

In that context, I want to take a moment and talk about WHO we are. 

I have only been here a few weeks and I can already tell who we are. We have great committed public servants all around us. We are those who answer the call. Who run toward environmental issues instead of away from them. 

Whether you are a member of our environmental emergency response team OR an inspector who enters potentially contaminated land to determine its safety for others, OR whether you are conscientiously reviewing an application for a permit to ensure compliance, our employees do what they need to do in order to do their duty under difficult circumstances.

And this isn’t just about the abstract concept of protecting the environment, it's about protecting our communities. Protecting our children.

One way or another, you all play a role in doing that every day.

I know we all get busy with our daily lives. We all can be surrounded by distractions. By the everyday moments that are a part of all of our lives. By the noise and simple challenges, big and small, of getting through another day. 

With all that surrounds us, through all the noise, it's easy to forget that everything we do touches so many lives. 

The truth is that YOU are often all that stands between keeping our citizens safe from contamination and pollution and a real health risk.

We are in the public safety business. There are those who may not know it. May not fully appreciate it but they depend on you to enhance and protect their lives and their loved ones.

And despite our best efforts, there is so much work to be done.

It’s 2023, and our children still have lead in their drinking water. Still too many lead pipes in our neighborhoods.

It’s 2023, and we still have hundreds of thousands of abandoned wells emitting methane into the air we breathe and the water we drink.

It’s 2023, and air quality still plagues many communities with asthma rates and COPD still occurring in alarming rates amongst our most vulnerable. Those with disabilities. Our seniors, our rural poor, our urban centers.

They all look to us to keep them safe.

And as we truly start to appreciate WHO we are, it's always important to recognize the WHY of what we do every day. 

That is why I wanted a presentation on climate change and its specific relevance to us. Because we must all understand the environmental challenges we face right here—right NOW!

But it’s also important for us to know that we have consistently accomplished BIG things. Very impressive things. We just heard a few examples. 

Thanks to all your hard work over the years, we have had great accomplishments and I hope to continue and build upon that tradition.

And it's not just about the ACTUAL environment, it's also about us facilitating a good business environment. 

To help create new jobs that pay a living wage. To help accelerate a clean energy economy and help drive economic growth and the overall economic environment of our state while also protecting the ACTUAL environment.

We can and will positively impact ALL of those things.

So today is about how we expect to get there. How we must all work together to achieve our lofty goals and overcome our biggest challenges.

So, here is My VISION:

I believe Climate Change is the defining issue of our time.

And if we are to make progress on this most important issue, We need to change the way we think about it. 

We are not guardians of our planet, we are guardians of our neighborhoods. Of our own yards. Our own homes.

We are to act in service of our neighbors.

I often say, All climate change is local—and it’s here now.

It’s not about some far away rain forest or some distant rising tide. It’s about extreme weather right here. Air quality right now. Clean water for everyone. Reliable and clean power for when we need it most. 

Not just for us but for our children and future generations.

And If we can fully understand that, It just may be that our greatest achievement as a people, as a department, is still before us.

Still before us as we work together to meet this challenge.

This is the “moon shot” of OUR time. And we must rise to the moment Or the moment will surely rise to meet us.

I believe we are up to the task.  Yes, with the big policy decisions we have to make, But also with the many small things we all do every day to make a difference.

The generation that is referred to as the “greatest” generation stood up to fascism and won World War Two. 

The next generation stood up for equality and civil rights for all of us. That same generation put a human being on the moon.

How did they do that? Well, let’s talk about that for a minute. 

It began with leadership. In 1961, President Kennedy before a joint session of Congress, said, “I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” 

And it continued with commitment and teamwork. One of my favorite stories.

The next year, in 1962, President Kennedy visited NASA for the first time. During his tour of the facility, he met a janitor who was carrying a broom down the hallway. 

The President casually asked the janitor what he did for NASA, and the janitor stopped—looked him in the eye and without hesitation said, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

I love that. Take a moment and reflect on that for a second. The janitor knew something that many people struggle with, the larger purpose of his work. 

He kept the building immaculately clean so that the scientists, engineers, and astronauts could further the mission of putting a “man on the moon”. 

It was his mission too.  He was an important part of the team. Everyone was fully committed.

Sometimes when I spend a lot of time cleaning things up and I feel a bit like a janitor, I remind myself of that larger purpose. That larger commitment.

That’s how NASA was able to accomplish something that no one else had ever done and some people couldn’t even imagine. 

Now it’s our turn. 

We have emerged from a global pandemic more resolved to make progress. We have begun to overcome the financial challenges that came with that pandemic.

And we begin with a new administration. One who’s leadership I believe in. Leadership that believes in us. Who understands the importance of what all of you do every day. 

A Governor that has made our environment a priority. A President who understands the impact of climate change. Several bipartisan bills that promise to provide essential funding for our cause.

We have a special opportunity.

And as we saw with the pandemic, we know that climate change and the challenges around our environment will disproportionately impact our most vulnerable. Our rural poor, our seniors, our communities of color, those living with disabilities.

Climate change is already impacting all of those right now.

The air quality in some neighborhoods is worse than others. The water in some poor communities is more at risk than others. The impact of extreme weather events are felt harder in some communities.

They are feeling it first but they will not be last. The impact of climate change will indiscriminately and eventually touch ALL of us. 

The impact of legacy pollution is insidious. It impacts the poor, the wealthy. The young and the old. In the big cities and in our small towns.

I was on the ground and saw first-hand the destruction left in the wake of a derecho (the most destructive storm in our country’s history) and the harm that 13 tornadoes caused when they touched down all at once. Touched down in places that had never had a tornado before.

I have heard the piercing crack of lightning and have seen the splintering of a 200-year-old historic tree. The increase of dangerous lightning strikes.

I have smelled the fumes of hundreds of cars sitting idle in traffic on a highway that cuts through the middle of a poor neighborhood. Neighborhoods where children play.

I have felt the sub-Arctic temperatures of a polar vortex as your tears freeze right to your face.

The threat is real and it’s here now.

So, what are we to do?

There are those who would say it's too late to make a difference on climate change. That it’s too hard. Too expensive. Requires too many stakeholders. Too many variables.

But here’s the thing, we have had success with big challenges to our environment before.

Decades ago, industries were putting so much sulfur into the environment that it began to damage surface water, kill aquatic life and forests across North America and Europe. 

Some of you will remember it was called—Acid Rain. (how many folks remember that?)

Working with environmental advocates, business, government and all stakeholders, they implemented new regulations to curtail the negative impact of sulfur. 

Critics argued that it would be too costly and ignore the concerns of local industry and that it just wouldn’t work. It had never been done before.

Sulfur emissions went down further and faster than anyone predicted and at one-fourth of the projected costs. Today, the problem has been largely abated.

My daughter is 17. She is very environmentally conscious. Her generation is. Some time ago, I asked her if she had ever heard of Acid Rain. She looked at me with that look she often gives me, and said “No, Dad.” 

I guess no one is talking about Acid Rain on TikTok or SnapChat?

The point is, we can do Big things like that.

We can work with all our partners to reduce carbon in the air. Advance renewables and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that actually creates higher paying jobs. That believes in environmental justice for everyone and protects our most vulnerable.

To hold polluters accountable and provide the kind of service our citizens deserve. To be the best stewards of our environment and do our duty with fidelity.

I believe we woefully underestimate the environment’s ability to heal. To reverse the damage that has been inflicted upon it. But it needs our help.

I promise I will do my part.

Build a great inspired team that acts with purpose and is passionate about our mission.

To focus on Operational Excellence. 

Because we must strive for excellence in all that we do. Because we must perform our important work expediently and conscientiously so others can perform THEIR important work. Do their jobs. 

We can balance the ability to promptly facilitate the work of local businesses while also continuing to champion the environment.

We need to do everything we can to make sure government moves at the Speed of Business. While also being good stewards of our core mission. We can encourage business and economic growth while protecting the environment.

Toward that end, a few weeks ago, the Governor signed an Executive Order creating the Office of Transformation & Opportunity. That office will work across agencies to create efficiencies and a more nimble response to rapidly shifting business needs. 

I believe in this effort and inter-agency cooperation. The Governor has asked me to serve on the Economic Development Strategy Group that is supporting this new office so we will be an important part of that effort. 

As a team, we also need to achieve what I call real “Cultural Competence” as an organization. Because we should all be able to bring our true self to work. 

To work in a safe setting where we are treated with professional respect and all of our talents are valued and our voices heard. 

That doesn’t mean we will always get what we want but we should be able to make our unique contribution to the conversation.

That we ALL have a Growth Mindset. 

Because being continuous learners and change agents will empower us as individuals and make sure that we don’t just have a JOB, we have a CAREER. A career that has purpose.

And as a team, we need to ensure a Culture of Innovation. 

Not just with good use of the latest technology but also with improved processes and procedures. Because we can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.

To ensure we capitalize on the strength of our Diversity and Inclusion. Because our department should reflect the people we serve. Because we can’t solve a variety of complex problems unless we take advantage of all of our diverse perspectives. 

What I call our “Full Spectrum Diversity”. That is not just diversity of gender, race, cultural background or orientation. That also means diversity of experience, diversity of education, diversity of geography and diversity of thought. 

We are ALL on a diversity journey and we need to take advantage of the best that ALL of us has to offer.

And finally, ALL of us need to be working to ensure environmental justice. Because our most vulnerable across ALL communities will simply not flourish without it.

Now, this is important. Please hear me. Regardless of position. Regardless of role and responsibility. Regardless of where we formally sit in the organization. This needs to be a focus for all of us.

We are ALL working to fight climate change. All must be focused on operational excellence, innovation, inclusion, a great culture and environmental justice in all of our communities.

Those priorities must be a focus of everyone on our team. I know we can have the same commitment as that team at NASA. I believe that spirit is already here. I just need to empower it to succeed.

That is how we will all be an important part of the DEP team. That is how we will be an organization that works with great teamwork everyday. That works well with all stakeholders.

I know a little bit about great teams. Whether it’s on the football field, the office or the board room. We must trust each other and stand side by side to take on great challenges. 

We must do OUR individual best because we have so much love and respect for the team and our mission that we don’t want to let each other down. That is how we win.

I will be focused on those outcomes.

But I need your help. Especially to ensure we have the resources and tools that we need to succeed.

Whether it’s staffing levels, resources, better policies, technology or stronger rules and regulations, we must identify and fight for what we need to succeed.

I will do my part.

Many years ago, long before I came to Pennsylvania, I was born in Newark, NJ and raised in Port Elizabeth. A skinny inner city kid surrounded by an oil refinery, a junk yard, railroad tracks and the New Jersey Turnpike. 

I know, that sounds glamorous—right?

As a small child, my only experience with nature was watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” on TV with my Abuela—my grandmother. 

Boy, you are showing your age if you remember that show!

My first REAL experience with nature was when my youth pastor from my church packed all of us into a van and took us to the Delaware Water Gap here in PA. I’m telling you that took some courage on his part. 

I had never seen so many trees. The fresh air as we ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we had packed. I spent the entire day in the water.

Then, at night, I had never seen so many stars.

We need to guarantee that experience for every kid.

Our mission is clear. You know it well.

Protect Pennsylvania’s environment.

Because all of us have a right to clean air, water and land. So that we can live a safe and healthy life that is free of contamination and pollution.

That right is actually in the Constitution of this great state. You all know it, Article 1, Section 27. 

Where we honor the nature of this beautifully green Commonwealth.

I have been all over this country. I’ve never seen a state so full of majestic mountain ranges, green valleys that invite you like a welcome mat, rivers and streams that flow with serenity. 

With great cities that reach to blue skies full of promise.

A Commonwealth where our country began.

That is who we are.

That is the beauty that is Pennsylvania.

Let’s get to work—to preserve that—for all of us.

Thank you.

God bless…

Related Articles This Week - Budget:

-- DEP Offers 10 Point Plan To Improve Permit Reviews; Climate/Energy Work Group Co-Chairs Announced; Work Group Formed To Prevent New Oil & Gas Well Abandonments  [PaEN]

-- House Budget Hearing: Acting DEP Secretary Outlines His Views On Environmental Justice, Announces Fernando TreviƱo As Special Deputy For Environmental Justice  [PaEN]

-- DEP Acting Secretary Negrin Wants To Encourage A Culture Of Being User-Friendly At DEP And Used The Train Derailment Response As An Example  [PaEN]   

-- DEP Projects Over $1.5 Million Deficit In Account Funding Oil & Gas Regulation Program In FY 2023-24  [PaEN]

-- DEP Budget Testimony: Increasing Permitting Efficiency, Cleaning Up Legacy Pollution, Investing In Communities, Holding Companies Accountable  [PaEN]

-- Former DEP Secretaries Invited To Share Their Experiences Protecting Pennsylvania's Environment With Acting Secretary Negrin  [PaEN]

-- Senate Republicans Again Suggest DCNR Allow More Natural Gas Drilling To Fund Park/Forest Operations; New Hellbender License Plate Coming In June  [PaEN]

-- DCNR Budget Testimony: Supporting PA’s Outdoor Recreation Industry, Conserving Natural Resources [PaEN]

-- Agriculture Budget Testimony: Budget Proposal Supports Agriculture Economy; Land & Water Stewardship; Organic Farming; Helps Deal With Threats To Food System  [PaEN]

-- Budget Refresher: Hearings Start March 21 For DCNR, DEP, Agriculture FY 2023-24 Budget Requests

[Posted: March 25, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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