Who's Who on Obama's Green Team: Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA

lisa jackson epa photo
Continuing with profiles of President Obama's Green Team, we turn to head of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson. Compared to some of the other agency heads, Jackson has a divided opinion surrounding her. While being praised by some big-name green groups such as the NRDC and the Sierra Club, some of Jackson's work while New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection, particular on clean up of toxic sites, has drawn criticism. So who is she and what has gotten some people all worked up?

Grew Up in Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans
Lisa Jackson was born in 1962 in Philadelphia, after which her adoptive parents moved her to New Orleans. Jackson grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward (which in case your mind can't place it, was one of the places most devastated during Hurricane Katrina). She went to Tulane University and then went on to Princeton University, where she earned her master's degree in chemical engineering. Started at EPA in 1986
She began her career at the EPA in 1986, working on a variety of hazardous waste clean-up programs, Superfund site remediation, and developing hazardous waste clean-up regulations. In 2002 she joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as assistant commissioner of compliance and enforcement, moving on in February 2006 to be Commissioner of Environmental Protection, a position she held until December 2008. It was while in this position that some criticism developed around her.

Local Level Employees Raise Complaints
As an article in Grist puts it, the split in opinion on Jackson, "seems to be between those who work on energy and climate policy in the states capital and those who work on toxic cleanups at the local level."

The main complaints come from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility http://www.peer.org/ : They claim that (in brief) during her term as head of NJ DEP she promised to develop a new ranking system to prioritize polluted sites due for clean-up, but never delivered on it; that she let Superfund site clean-ups go unfinished; in one instance, failed to inform parents sending their children to a day care center with potential problems with mercury vapors (it had been a thermometer factory previously) for three months; she mistreated a whistleblower; and created 
flood hazard controls plagued with loopholes. (Mother Jones)

Want to dig deeper into these complaints: Why Lisa Jackson Should Not Run EPA
But National Groups Extend Praise
Though sometimes couched in language acknowledging the complaints raised by PEER, national groups have generally been supportive of Jackson. The NRDC extended support, while Sierra Club director Carl Pope said that Jackson, "Brings a strong scientific background to an agency where for the past eight years science and knowledge have been systematically corrupted and disregarded."

Issues To Which Jackson Will Give Her 'Personal Attention'
In a memo issued to all EPA employees shortly after she was confirmed, Jackson listed five issues which will receive her personal attention. From that memo:

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The President has pledged to make responding to the threat of climate change a high priority of his administration. He is confident that we can transition to a low-carbon economy while creating jobs and making the investment we need to emerge from the current recession and create a strong foundation for future growth. I share this vision. EPA will stand ready to help Congress craft strong, science-based climate legislation that fulfills the vision of the President. As Congress does its work, we will move ahead to comply with the Supreme Court's decision recognizing EPA's obligation to address climate change under the Clean Air Act.

Improving air quality. The nation continues to face serious air pollution challenges, with large areas of the country out of attainment with air-quality standards and many communities facing the threat of toxic air pollution. Science shows that people's health is at stake. We will plug the gaps in our regulatory system as science and the law demand.

Managing chemical risks. More than 30 years after Congress enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act, it is clear that we are not doing an adequate job of assessing and managing the risks of chemicals in consumer products, the workplace and the environment. It is now time to revise and strengthen EPA's chemicals management and risk assessment programs.

Cleaning up hazardous-waste sites. EPA will strive to accelerate the pace of cleanup at the hundreds of contaminated sites across the country. Turning these blighted properties into productive parcels and reducing threats to human health and the environment means jobs and an investment in our land, our communities and our people.

Protecting America's water. EPA will intensify our work to restore and protect the quality of the nation's streams, rivers, lakes, bays, oceans and aquifers. The Agency will make robust use of our authority to restore threatened treasures such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, to address our neglected urban rivers, to strengthen drinking-water safety programs, and to reduce pollution from non-point and industrial dischargers.

It's worth noting that Lisa Jackson will be the first African American to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

via: EPA , Grist, Mother Jones, New York Times, Wikipedia
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