EPA’s Lisa Jackson on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show

BY ON May 24, 2011

Last week EPA administrator Lisa  B. Jackson joined Jon StewartGroup of adults relaxing outside on The Daily Show. Stewart got right into it: “You guys are in a real dog fight now that the new Congress has taken over.” EPA seemed to be the chosen example of “government overreach.” Jackson agreed that her agency was under assault: “We wonder where some of that’s coming from; it is definitely an inside the Beltway line of reasoning.” Was she being coy? Understated? Ironic?

Stewart stopped her right there: “I can tell you where that’s coming from…They’re called the Republicans.”

Much laughter. Stewart lobbed another softball: “Are there really people who argue that clean air or clean water were not good programs? “

Jackson walked briskly through a history of successful bipartisan programs. But, as she sees it, we are at one of those junctures that come up from time to time: “We have to remind the American people that environmentalism isn’t a spectator sport. You actually have to stand up and demand that we be vigilant in protecting our air and water.”

Good line.  But it just sort of hung there, without a clincher: This is a defining moment. Supporters of EPA must make their voices heard. Protect the EPA.

The very supportive audience laughed.

Stewart floated the argument that EPA cannot regulate mercury without killing business or killing jobs. Dioxins go–and businesses go. Or dioxins stay. And we go. “Can we not die but also they live?” he asked.  Can’t we have a strong economy and strong regulations that protect our health?

Jackson answered that in fact, many companies are regulating emissions, and doing just fine. And the economy was not hurt by the Clean Air Act. I wouldn’t say she knocked the “cost factor” out of the park. Stewart cut her off, and made fun of the anti-science opposition.

“I find those types of facts are very unpersuasive.”

“What would persuade you?” Jackson asks.

“A feeling.”

It was funny. But the problem is that “feelings” do matter in the quick give and take of political propaganda: Someone’s making you feel angry, or hopeful. Someone’s manipulating your feelings of fear. A President has to make you feel that clean air is our right. A power plant owner wants you to feel the pain and fear of unemployment.

Jackson never once mentioned coal. Why not? She never made the connection between the coal-powered plants and the big polluters with the big dollars–the polluters who want to get in the way of the EPA doing its job. The polluters who are, in fact, turning this regulatory process into a spectator sport, as in–a circus. Bring in the clowns.

Jackson said that in Washington, inside the Beltway, she sometimes feels she’s living in a “fact-free zone.” She defended Obama’s leadership–“He doesn’t get enough credit.”

“I don’t give it to him,” quipped Stewart.

So in the end, how, did Lisa Jackson do? As I watched this fabulous chance to get a sympathetic audience moving–to get supporters to write letters, call representatives, comment to the EPA–I felt, well, conflicted. Part of me felt slightly disappointed. Jackson was sound, sensible, reasonable, understated, cool and calm. She was nimble with health care facts and figures. She was, if anything, dispassionate.

If I hadn’t already known what’s at stake, and how serious things are, I certainly wouldn’t have been motivated to go to my computer and send an email, much less write a postcard or make a phone call. I didn’t feel inspired. I didn’t feel any urgency from her. I didn’t feel I understood who the bad guys were. Or even what was at stake. Jackson seemed to make us want to feel this was all a weird Washington drama.

This isn’t a Beltway Circus. Those power plants spewing mercury and other toxins are in our towns across the country–and the air they pollute drifts into everyone’s windows.

But there was also something about Jackson’s demeanor that left me feeling relieved. No antic, loud-mouthed, Bullying Bozo Behavior from Administrator Jackson.

And in these weird times, in which some politicians and lobbyists seem to think nothing of lying about poisons that harm our children, I suppose that’s something to be thankful for.

Lisa Jackson’s quiet, contained, grounded demeanor made me feel something unusual: she seemed……trustworthy.

TOPICS: Activism, Coal, Mercury Poisoning, Politics, Pollution