This was written by Elizabeth Weise and Wendy Koch for USA TODAY:
As she prepares to step down from her position as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson said she is proudest of presiding over the landmark finding that climate-changing greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.
“Americans are back to believing that something is happening with our climate and that mankind has a role to play in that. These are not natural phenomena,” said Jackson in her first newspaper interview since announcing on Dec. 27 that she would leave the EPA.
Climate change is “a simple scientific statement,” said Jackson, who was in San Francisco on Tuesday to tour the city’s new energy-saving Public Utilities Commission building. She said the EPA’s so-called “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases pose a public threat, upheld despite court challenges, has enabled the agency to use the Clean Air Act to start reducing their emissions and “help businesses to look forward to a different future.” During her tenure, EPA has proposed emission limits on new power plants and has nearly doubled the fuel efficiency standard for new cars and light trucks by 2025.
There’s still a way to go, she acknowledged. She said the nation has to get to the point of accepting scientific evidence. She cited the EPA’s recent rules that set stricter standards for fine particle or soot pollution, which were based on EPA research — done at the request of the National Academy of Sciences — showing that soot is a cause of premature death. “And yet you have people argue about whether soot standards are beneficial,” she said.
Another challenge, she said, is Congress. Jackson repeatedly tussled with congressional Republicans and the fossil-fuel industry over anti-pollution regulations. “One of the questions everyone is asking themselves is whether the U.S. House of Representatives is actually going to reflect the will of the people on a lot of these issues, and the will of the people is awfully clear.” But people in Washington continue to argue about them “and that’s not good for out country,” she said.
Many environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, had hoped for stronger and more decisive action from President Obama, the first Democratic president in eight years. They criticized the White House for not lobbying harder for passage of a cap-and-trade bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions and for delaying tougher standards on ozone pollution, both of which Jackson wanted.
“We didn’t back away from those challenges,” she said in defending Obama. “And the president, even as we were growing out of a recession, didn’t ask us to back away from those challenges.”
She said Obama had “the enormous challenge of trying to bring our country together around a plan for growth that is resilient and that focuses on everyone in the country — not some people doing well, but, as he says, “growing from the middle out.”
Jackson was careful not to assign blame, saying her agency addressed several issues that had “either been neglected or done, as the courts later found, not in compliance with the law.”
Two other highlights Jackson listed from her four years heading up the nation’s environmental agency was expanding the EPA’s decades-long effort to ensure that all communities, rich and poor alike, get the benefits of clean air, clean water and clean land. The work of environmental justice is to ensure that “we don’t simply transfer a problem from one community to another” and that one community doesn’t pay for the clean water of another, she said.
Finally, she said, she was pleased with the beginnings of EPA’s work on sustainability, a conversation the agency will launch later this month.
“We’re not looking to regulate it, this isn’t another set of mandates,” she said. Rather, she said, her agency sees the hundreds of Fortune 500 companies with sustainability officers and wants to make sure that it’s helping those efforts. “Clearly, if a business is using less water or less energy or less toxics, that’s clearly helping the economy,” she said.
Why leave now? “Part of the decision in deciding to go now was to give myself the space and time to think about where I can make a difference next,” Jackson said. She hasn’t set a date yet for her departure nor has she announced what she’ll do after leaving the EPA.