Remarks by the Vice President in a Moderated Conversation at the Accelerating Lead Pipe Replacement Summit
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, everyone. (Applause.) Have a seat. Have a seat. Welcome.
Deanna, you are just -- you are a superstar -- the superheroes and a superstar. Thank you so very much.
And to the boys, thank you, guys. Aiden, we are so motivated by your mom and the two of you, as young leaders on this issue. Your voice has been so important.
And to everyone here, welcome. Thank you for convening on this Friday afternoon. I know it's been a good day of a lot of important discussion and meeting about our plan for 2023 to continue in this movement, which is such an important movement.
We have here -- as I'm sure you know, we have elected leaders. We have community leaders. We have labor leaders. We have our partners in the private sector, foundation folks all together under one roof to show that when we work together on an issue like this -- which is seemingly intractable, you would think, based on the length of time that it's been an issue without resolution. But coming together under this roof, at this moment, to really build on the momentum of the work that so many of you have been doing for years and years to see the success and see it through.
So, on behalf of myself, our administration and the President, and, of course, Administrator Regan: I welcome you and look forward to our discussion.
And, Mayor, I just -- I want to hear later what was the joke about the weatherman and the sportsman. (Laughter.) You just can't help yourself, but you're so good. So thank you for all the work you're doing.
And with that, we'll get started. (Applause.)
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: All right. Good afternoon.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: So, first of all, Madam Vice President, we want to thank you for convening everyone in this room. You haven't missed anyone. We have labor, nonprofits, our agencies, and the private sector, all who are here with one thing in mind, and that's to get lead pipes out of all of our communities.
Now, I've had the honor of traveling all across the country with Madam Vice President. We've had some fun, but it's a serious -- it's a serious, serious matter. We've traveled to cities like Newark, New Jersey; Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And we've seen firsthand the challenges that our communities are facing.
Madam Vice President, it's been an honor to travel with you. And I've seen firsthand your commitment to clean water and also environmental justice.
Talk to us about why that's a priority for you and this administration.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, when I look at these two young leaders here, with their mother Deanna, that's why it's a priority as much as anything.
And again, I just want to thank you, Deanna, because we spent some time together. A year ago -- she and I were spending some time before we walked in here. A year ago, January of last year, is when we first met. And you told the story of Aiden, which is, sadly, a story that many mothers and fathers and parents around our country can tell, which is about the clear injustice of it all as much as anything.
When we think about fundamental rights, we should understand that it should be a right of every occupant of this Earth, and certainly of our country, to have clean water. Let's just start there.
Okay, then let us understand, because many may not be aware, sadly, that it is not a right that is guaranteed to all the occupants of our country; that in many communities, families, children, parents cannot take for granted that they will turn on a tap and that clean water will come out. And I think we would all agree there is nothing about this that should be considered a luxury or an option. It is essential to the sustenance of life and the wellbeing of all of the people on our planet.
And I keep referring to the world and the planet because this is, sadly, not only true for here in the United States and for us as Americans, but it is a global issue, in terms of the proportion. And we will at some point talk about, I think, the optimism and belief that we all have that our collective work will have a global impact because of the model we will set, based on the work we do in our own country. So I think of it that way.
And then I think of the issue as connected with environmental justice, because it doesn't take much data or scientific opinion for us to realize and know that access to clean water is often a function of one's socioeconomic condition, geographic location, race, and ethnicity.
It does not take much investigation or knowledge to know that, for example, the communities where lead pipes still exist -- and will be eradicated because of the Administrator's work, because of our President's priority, because of our collective priority will be eradicated in the next nine years -- but that those communities that have lead service lines and pipes are exactly those communities that are socioeconomically low income and are invariably communities of color and poor communities.
It doesn't take much to think about, "Well, how did that come to be?" Well, lead pipes, they were a thing at a time. So they weren't only in those communities. Yes, that's true. However, when it became clear that, through those lead pipes, the water that was produced results in severe and significant public health consequences, including learning issues for the children, that communities that had resources could eradicate it themselves.
If there was a tax base that can sustain the municipality, perhaps then public entities would have removed those pipes, or homeowners who had the resources to pay the hundreds or thousands of dollars that were required would have removed those pipes.
But what about the folks who are living in communities where they're living paycheck to paycheck and couldn't possibly -- if they are renters or homeowners -- invest in the kind of resources and the kind of work that would remove those pipes?
So it is an environmental justice issue also.
It is an environmental justice issue when we think about the overlay between this issue and so many others that compound the burden that specific communities then face, because usually this will exist in the same areas where we are looking at food deserts, where we are looking at underfunded schools, where we are looking at inadequate or -- or difficult access to public transportation. So this is how I think about this issue.
And also, I think about it in the context of being a child of parents who were active in the Civil Rights Movement, who fought every day and shouted and marched for justice, which was about equality and equity and fairness and freedoms, including the freedom to live and thrive and be healthy and enjoy one's childhood, not to mention the rest of their life.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Thank you for that. And I know this summit is about clean water, but let me pick up on where you're leaving off. This administration is about building back better and investing in America. Talk to us about what this moment means to you and what this moment means to our country.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think that we are at a very pivotal moment where -- and you and I -- we're friends, Michael -- (laughter) -- have talked about this -- the Administrator -- have talked about this, where this is not just a kind of incremental improvement. We are really looking at the potential for -- for jumping onto a new plateau, which is another way of saying that this -- this has the very real potential to be a very transformative moment.
Think about it. Our team has calculated that we have probably -- between the Infrastructure Law, between the Inflation Reduction Act, and some of the other work -- we're probably looking at it -- a federal government investment of up to a trillion dollars on these issues that are about our climate. A trillion dollars. And -- (applause) -- right.
And if you then compound that with the private investment -- with the investment, the longstanding investment in communities -- not just dollars -- of foundations and nonprofits and community organizations and labor -- you look at what we have the potential, right now, in a very short window of time, proportionate to the crisis, to do transformative work. That's how I think of this moment.
And you and I talked about entering 2023 with the theme of momentum. Let's jump on this and see what we've got. And then do the work -- the hard work of collaborating and coordinating in a way that it is about federal, state, and local government; it is about the private sector; it is about the nonprofit sector, and so on -- to seize this moment. And I'm very excited about it.
You know, I think about it in the context of being a devout public servant. And, you know, I was elected -- my first elected office was as DA of San Francisco in 2004. And in 2005, I started one of the first environmental justice offices of any DA's office in the country. Because for those of you who are familiar with the Bay Area -- I was in San Francisco; there's a community in San Francisco called Bayview Hunters Point that at the time and, sadly, still today has an annual household income of about $15,000. And as you can imagine -- because it's, you know -- again, it happens around the country -- and that community was treated as a dumping ground. And there were bad actors.
And so I decided, well, you know what? We need to take that on from an enforcement perspective, as well as highlighting and uplifting the voices of the community around their natural leadership. And so we took that on.
As Attorney General of California, we did some very significant work that was, again, about taking on the bad actors, but also giving voice to community.
And then, in the Senate years, we did a lot of work that also was about water policy, which I love water policy. And again, maybe as a native Californian, but just thinking about the importance of diversifying water policy, right? Let's think about it in terms of some us grew up around, you know, what we must do around conservation, but then also recycling, storage of water -- in particular underground storage -- desalination. And then thinking of water policy and the climate crisis in the context also of, yes, lead pipes.
Because it is after all about water policy if water policy, part of -- it is grounded -- forgive the pun -- in the idea that access to clean water should be a right and is an essential need, and what the climate and the extreme climate circumstances are doing to make that an issue that may go away if we are not smart, whether it be because of drought or because of floods, and what that means in terms of damaging the infrastructure and systems.
Extreme weather. Look what's happened in Mississippi and how that can result in depriving a community of clean water.
So, thinking about all of that in the context then of this moment and what we, as those who are in -- in these public offices, combined with all of the friends and the longstanding leaders, what we can do at this moment, I think, is very exciting.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: It is. I can tell you all that, as the EPA Administrator, I typically enter the room and know more about water policy than other principals. (Laughter.) Not so with the Vice President. (Laughter.)
You know, I really am excited. It is a transformative moment. And I'm excited, as EPA Administrator, about the relationships we have with our state, local, and regional partners.
You know, can you talk to us a little bit about -- and you and I have talked about this -- the importance of these partnerships, but also public-private partnerships?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. I think it's the only way to go, frankly. Because, you know, first of all, we, as the government -- and in particular the federal government -- we have the unique ability to scale. But it is in these other sectors that you have a certain depth of skill and -- and knowledge that coupled then with our ability to scale can really, again, be transformative. I think of it in terms of a number of things.
Let's just start with jobs. I know we have labor leaders here. I'm telling you, I'm -- I'm on a quiet or maybe not-so-quiet mission to try and visit every local IBEW in the country.
You know, the work that is happening through, for example, that union that is about skills development. Four-year apprenticeships that -- you know, some of us chose to acquire our knowledge through colleges and universities, but there are other highly skilled professionals who are acquiring their knowledge through these apprenticeships, which, by the way, the beauty of them, which we still need to get the word out, these are four-year rigorous programs. And while the student is in the program, they get a stipend, so they don't actually have to worry about, "Can I get educated or pay my rent." They then come out with incredible skills that are about engineering and math and all of that, and are taking on jobs that allow them to raise a family, to go on a two-week vacation from time to time, and buy a home.
We need their skills. We need the skills of the folks that these apprenticeship programs are cultivating, because we can't invest a trillion dollars and then ask our private sector folks to match it, ask our foundations to match it in some way, and then no- -- have nobody to do the jobs. Right? So there is that piece of it.
There is the piece of it, in terms of the collaboration, about just local, state, and federal. The President and I both started our careers in local government.
I love mayors. I love mayors. (Applause.) I do. Some mayors in the house.
I -- you know, you -- I've talked with the mayors many times over the years. And even just recently, there was a group that was here for their conference. I mean, mayors are there on the ground. And mayors, by the way -- poor thing, sometimes -- (laughter) -- I mean, everybody knows who you are. They know where you live. They will come up to you in the grocery store, and they will talk with you at Little League games, wherever -- "I need this thing fixed. I need this thing addressed."
Mayors don't have the luxury of being theoretical about very practical issues. And they then, knowing their community, knowing where the resources are, can do the -- the work of making everything that we do here hit the streets in a competent and efficient and -- and effective way, including, let's really put on ourselves the importance of -- of the metric of speed and haste. Meaning all these plans and ideas we have, let's get them out there and make them real, as opposed to, you know, kind of having conferences and just talking about what we're going to do.
Mayors are a big part of that. State leaders are a big part of that. Where we have that kind of investment is critically important to make it real in the lives of real people. But that's how I think about it.
I think about in terms of the private sector. I've been meeting with a lot of CEOs, for example, here and internationally. In fact, I convened a bunch of -- of CEOs in Tokyo when I was in Japan for another reason, but to talk with them and other CEOs about: How are we talking about these jobs?
I would suggest that we really, in this transformative moment where we are on the verge of creating a whole new industry and economy -- a clean energy economy -- let's -- let's sit back and think about, "Okay, well, how can we do this in the smartest way, where we get the most people to have access and we have equitable outcomes?"
Well, one of the pieces of it, on the jobs piece, is: Let's not talk about the jobs based on some fancy title. Instead, let us think about talking about the jobs that are going to be created defined by the skill that is necessary to fill the job.
Back to the point of the apprenticeship, so many of the jobs that will be in a clean energy economy will not necessarily require a college degree and, therefore, will not require that individual to have to come up with tuition and be burdened with student loan debt and all of those associated burdens just to acquire the skills that are necessary to do very important jobs.
So, that's about the private sector thinking about how it is talking about the jobs that must be filled and then making that clear to educational institutions, be it labor, union, apprenticeships, or community colleges or whatever.
So, the coordination across sectors is going to be very important, again, to make all of this real and seize this moment that we have in front of us.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: You know, you've connected a few dots for me, personally, because I've traveled the country with the Vice President. And I've watched her very carefully. And she does a really good job impersonating a mayor. (Laughter.) Because she goes into these churches, these homes, these communities, and engage -- and talk directly to people.
At times, you can attest, it's a tough job.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: All of the stories are not as positive as Aiden's story.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: And when I think about Aiden -- he's nine years old. My son Matthew is nine years old. It really hits home, and it becomes personal very quickly.
As you travel the country and as you hear story after story after story after story -- and there are a lot of them --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: -- too many.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There are.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: What keeps you going?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: This convening, as an example. I mean, Deanna keeps me going. You know, I -- again, I talked to her this afternoon, but we've talked before. I mean, the courage of people who have been through so much to stand up and speak out and to not give up, and to know what is possible and believe in it and advocate for it gives me a great deal of optimism about not only what is possible but the leadership that is out there who are partners in this process.
What gives me a sense of hope and optimism is that -- I mean, frankly, a lot of what we need to do is not rocket science. (Laughter.) It's pretty obvious. We just need to do it. (Laughter.) Right?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: That's right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And -- and, again, in a hats-off to everyone here and so many of our colleagues who are not here, folks have been talking about this for decades. It's just been the willingness of others to listen and take it seriously and then put the resources and the priority into it.
And again, that's why I think that this is a moment where we do have the momentum, based on a foundation that has been really well laid over many years.
I mean, again, I grew up in -- in the Bay Area. We -- I grew up with "Save the Bay." You know, I grew up with all these -- this stuff has been going on for a long time. What do we need to do around water? What do we need to do around communities, empowerment?
And now we've got a President, we've got an administration, we've got leaders in the positions to actually see it through. Let's seize the moment. And that gives me a sense of optimism. (Applause.)
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: So, we -- we are at a very crucial time. This is a great moment to be in. And, you know, a lot of leaders have professed some of the things that this administration has espoused, but this administration has been successful in getting us to this point -- your leadership, the President's leadership. What's the secret sauce? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: To what? (Laughter.) To -- to which part?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: To this level of success, in terms of getting the resources, the people in the room, the rowing in the same direction.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I think it -- it's almost like the law of physics: It was going to happen, because we are all headed in the same direction. And we just -- we -- we got it. Right? We're, again, from these different sectors.
I think it's also just this clock on this issue is -- is banging down the door. We think about this in terms of -- in the, you know, the environmental justice movement, the movement for smarter water policy as a function also of the -- of the climate movement. Right?
And in the last only couple of years, maybe handful of years, has -- for example, the U.N. unambiguously said, "This is a crisis."
For all of us who have been tracking this for years and years and years, they were going, "Well, you know, they were a little ambiguous about it. Maybe -- may -- there are people who differ." And then, finally, with an exclamation point, "No, it's real."
We look at what's happening in terms of extreme crisis -- I was just in -- in my home state of California last week at a site which is doing very important work in Southern California around underground storage of water and talking about, you know, again, that this is taking on a propotion- -- -portion that on one end is about drought, on the other end is about floods. And then what do we do to capture the rainwater instead of pushing it into the ocean. And let's rethink this, because that's not very smart.
By the way, jobs and all that will come from -- from rethinking how we do this and from redoing how we do it.
But I think that there is just an undeniable quality to this issue now that perhaps people could overlook before.
You look at Lake Mead. For any of us who have been tracking that, I visited Lake Mead. Just in the last 10 years, the amount of -- of drought that it has experienced so that we're talking about bath tub rings of where the water was just a decade ago, much less years ago.
The wildfires. We used to talk about wildfire season in California. It's now -- it's not "season"; it's -- it's all year round.
Hurricanes, floods. I think that the undeniability of the issue is also part of what has given us this kind of exponential push toward smart policy in the last couple of years, in spite of the work that, again, has been done on -- for decades on it.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but there's something comforting about having a self-professed water policy nerd -- (laughter) -- as the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You're darn right. Well, thank you. (Applause.) That's very kind. Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: (Laughs.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's very kind.
Okay, I'm also space geek. Okay? (Laughter.) Wait, but I bring that up because, to your point about just -- it just occurred to me that I really should share this thought with -- with folks -- I'm sure you're thinking it already. But where we've come in terms of space exploration and the technology around space and satellite technology.
So, I'm the head of Space Council. And -- and I really do -- I really do have a strong like for space. (Laughs.) I love space. In fact, I encourage any of you who have not seen the Webb Telescope photographs -- if you've not seen it, please take a look at those photographs.
You know, for all of us who have been doing our work for a long time, we can get a bit cynical. We've seen it all, and we just kind of -- you look at those photographs -- when I first saw them -- we're looking billions of years ago, galaxies being formed. It's extraordinary.
When they first handed me the -- the photographs -- because I'm the head, so they kind of showed me a little bit before it got -- it was made public -- I had the most highly articulate response. "Wow." (Laughter.)
So, included in all of the work we are doing on space technology -- the satellites. So, we just launched a satellite -- everyone is probably aware of this -- NASA just launched a satellite that for the first time ever will give us a map of water around the globe.
Think about what that will mean on this issue that for which we are convened and working. Our ability to map on a global scale where the water is -- we have a sense of that -- but where it's going. Is it going away? Right?
And so you combine all of these factors. I think that we are, again, in this moment where we can exponentially just surge the work that needs to be done.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: You know, I'm smiling because it's -- it's this level of enthusiasm that required me to call Bill Nelson at NASA and confess to him that my son went as an astronaut trick-or-treating. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He did?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: It was because of the conversation you and he had about space.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: So, who we elect matters. Let me just -- (laughter and applause) --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Well, and -- and to the point -- and to that point -- and Bill Nelson is so wonderful, as the Administrator of NASA -- former senator from Florida, former astronaut.
And so, what he will tell you and what -- what -- for those of us who have talked with astronauts while they're in space, if you -- which I have -- when you talk with an astronaut, I asked a very obvious question: Being in space, looking at Earth, do you have a different or a new -- or what new perspective do you have about Earth looking at it from space?
And to a one, they say, "It's so fragile." "It's so fragile." So when you're looking out that window from the International Space Station at Earth, how fragile it looks and how obviously interconnected we all are.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Yeah.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Yeah.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Which gets back to the heart of all of the work we're doing.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Wow. Well, listen, I want to thank you for your leadership. And I want to thank you for convening all these wonderful people.
All of you, you recognize we're in very good hands with the Vice President. (Applause.) And I'd like to offer you the opportunity to just offer us some closing remarks as we -- as we leave this -- this great conversation.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I want to talk about the EPA Administrator. (Laughter.) I do.
As he has said, we have traveled the country together. We have had many, many, many conversations. And it really does matter who the leaders are at these moments and sitting in these chairs. And, in Michael Regan, we have somebody who really gets it, who cares about it, and who is not only enthusiastic but you really are a fighter.
As kind as he is, he also does not tolerate any kind of stuff. (Laughter and applause.) And meaning -- meaning -- meaning -- meaning he does not -- he has no patience for bureaucracy. He has no patience for anything that is short of actually implementing and seeing things through.
He is bold. And one of the things I admire about you is that you don't put up your finger and think, "Okay, where are the political winds going?" You really are focused on doing the right thing. And we know over the history of the -- of the EPA's being that it has the capacity to be very bold, but it will be a function of who sits in that chair.
And you have done an extraordinary job. And I don't get a chance to say that to you hardly ever and certainly not in front of colleagues. And so, I want to do that now, because it's hard work.
And I'll just end with this. In spite of all of our optimism for this moment, we are still working against status quo.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Yes. Yes, we are.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And the thing about status quo is that I think people sometimes are not clear about it. And they think status quo means it's static. Oh no, status quo is quite dynamic. It will fight against change. It will push against change.
So, to be in this position and do the work you do requires a lot of good stuff and perseverance and dedication. And so, I'd like to end my comments by thanking you, Administrator, for your work.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Wow.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Thank you. Thank you.
Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President in a Moderated Conversation at the Accelerating Lead Pipe Replacement Summit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/359500