EPA's Lisa Jackson on Earth Day, Plus: Her Top Green Tips (Interview)


Photo via wikipedia
Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA, is a key person to chat with on Earth Day. It is, after all, her job to run one of the most important government agencies for preserving environmental integrity. So we asked her a few questions, including how relevant she thinks Earth Day is in shifting us to sustainable living, how Earth Day issues have shifted over the years, and where the EPA has been successful and where it's missed the target in protecting our environment. Here's what Administrator Jackson has to say. TreeHugger: Each year prior to Earth Day someone writes how 'shouldn't every day be Earth Day?' and how coming together for one day doesn't accomplish much. To you, why is Earth Day relevant today?
Lisa Jackson: Earth Day was part of a movement that led to the creation of the EPA, the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and four decades of stronger protections for our health and our environment. If we had only celebrated the one Earth Day in 1970, it would still be relevant today for those reasons.

For every person for whom Earth Day is a one-day event, I believe there are many more that Earth Day inspires to make environmentalism an everyday activity. It's a good way to make these issues real to people and get new voices involved every year.

And anything that involves one in every six people on the planet is immensely relevant. One day is certainly not enough. But with one billion people taking part and doing something to clean up the planet, we can at least take comfort that our environment will be better off tomorrow than it is today. The awareness of our issues will be broader
tomorrow than they are today. We have to do our part to make that true of the next day, and the day after that.

TH: In the 40 years since the first Earth Day, how have you seen the issues facing the environmental movement change? It seems like some issues, such as acid rain were successfully dealt with, while others, like offshore oil drilling are a perennial issue, while other topics like climate change weren't even on the radar four decades ago. What's the same now as it was then and what's different?
LJ: For the most part we've moved from the obvious pollution -- what EPA's first administrator William Ruckelshaus calls "see, touch, smell" pollution -- to challenges that are harder to see in immediate terms. Things like chemicals in our products, our environment and our bodies; storm water runoff from many different sources; or long-term issues like climate change. Some communities are facing both immediate and
long-term challenges, and we've strengthened EPA's focus on better serving them by turning our attention to the environmental issues in underserved areas, among other new initiatives.

Although the challenges have shifted, the solutions are essentially the same. We need people engaged in their communities to give voice to these issues, and we need innovations like clean energy and green chemistry to find a path that keeps us safe, healthy and prosperous. Something we've seen in recent years, and something that Treehugger has helped promote, is increased corporate and consumer responsibility.

Government has its role to play, but we know that a sustainable economy is going to be the product of consumer demand and private sector innovation. The good news is that America is full of ingenious inventors and entrepreneurs. The question is whether we will do what is required to seize this opportunity.

TH: Looking back, what do you feel are some of the EPA's greatest successes in tackling environmental problems, and in your opinion what could have been or could be today handled more effectively?

LJ: Our waters are visibly cleaner. We've reduced major air pollutants by more than half. Lead alone is down more than 90% from 1980 levels. These changes have saved lives and ecosystems, and we managed to remove all that pollution from an economy that has more than doubled in size. That's a strong record. But there is unfinished business.

Environmental justice is still a concern. Our chemical laws need to catch up with the modern chemical industry. And we've been talking about our energy crisis for decades. These are the issues our generation must take up on the 40th Earth Day.

TH: Given more difficult economic times, not everyone has the inclination to take on a whole range of changes in their lives, even if they benefit the environment in the long run. If someone only has the energy or means to do one or two things, what would you recommend?
LJ: I don't believe we have to choose between the economy and the environment. So much of what we can do with regard to efficiency with energy or water are money savers. There is plenty to do that won't strain your budget. Drive less by walking or riding a bike. Shut the lights off when you leave a room. Use less water when you brush your teeth or shower. Protecting the environment can also be fun. Join a local community group to help clean up your neighborhood. Get involved at a local school that's taking up an environmental project. Or plant a home garden with your family for fresh, local, low-cost vegetables. If you start a garden, reduce waste by composting.

There are plenty of places to find great, green activities:

Visit www.Serve.gov to find a green service project in your area.

Join the "It's My Environment" video project. Film yourself taking action to protect the environment, and then share it with us to be part of the video.

Sign up to Pick 5 for the Environment. Commit to five actions you will take to protect the environment.

More on Lisa Jackson
TreeHugger Talks to Lisa Jackson, EPA Chief on New EPA, Youth, CO2: "We Have a Moment" [Video]
Who's Who on Obama's Green Team: Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA

Tags: Conservation | Earth Day | EPA | Preservation