Bay Journal

Obama EPA pick says she’ll visit Bay, support its restoration

Lisa Jackson says agency’s decisions will be based on science

  • By Karl Blankenship on February 01, 2009
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The Obama administration's choice for EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, vowed during her confirmation hearing in January to visit the Chesapeake Bay and boost support for its restoration.

In testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, she also vowed that decisions by the agency would be based on science, and that it would operate "with unparalleled transparency and openness."

She was pressed on Chesapeake Bay issues by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-MD, who told Jackson that "we need leadership from this administration to strengthen the partnership between the federal government and the Bay partners in order to be able to move forward."

He said cleanup efforts needed "adequate funding" and to be "result oriented."

"We don't want to see press releases, we want to see results in the cleaning of the Bay," Cardin said.

Jackson promised to visit the Bay with Cardin for a first-hand look at the nation's largest estuary and efforts to restore its health. "I believe that the federal government's partnership is important, not only because of the extraordinary treasure that is the Chesapeake Bay...but because it is such an important demonstration to the rest of the country of the power of EPA and the states-because the states are certainly involved-to turn the tide, to reverse the trends in nonpoint source pollution that are affecting the Chesapeake Bay," Jackson said.

She added that she would "commit to raising the bar even further on the federal government's level of commitment to this extraordinary resources."

Jackson said she would ensure that EPA employees working on the Bay "don't feel the need to hide the truth of what is working and not working, because they are worried about resources being taken away from them. We need to be able to have an honest dialogue about where we haven't been able to see the improvements."

Several press articles and government audits of the Bay Program in recent years, including one from the Congressional Governmental Accountability Office, said past EPA reports presented an overly "rosy" view of the Chesapeake's health and the progress of cleanup efforts. In response, the Bay Program has revised its reporting systems in recent years.

Jackson also said she would try to address air quality issues that affect the Bay-nitrogen oxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels is a significant source of nitrogen to the Chesapeake.

Cardin expressed concern about court decisions that have eroded the protection of wetlands under the Clean Water Act, and Jackson promised to work with the committee "to make sure the waters of our country are adequately protected and enhanced."

In her prepared remarks, Jackson sent a clear signal that the Obama administration plans to take the agency in a different direction. Many of the senators quizzing Jackson were critical of the way the EPA operated for the past eight years, and emphasized their desire for change. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, said the agency had "fallen into significant disrepute." Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, the committee chair, said "the EPA has hurt the American people, made them less safe, over the last eight years."

Jackson said she would "administer with science as my guide" and promised that "political appointees will not compromise the integrity of EPA's technical experts to advance particular regulatory outcomes."

The Bush administration was at times accused of ignoring the advice of scientific experts on decisions ranging from global warming to air pollution.

"Science must be the backbone of what EPA does," Jackson said. "EPA's addressing of scientific decisions should reflect the expert judgment of the agency's career scientists."

She said the EPA in the Obama administration would have five key objectives: reducing greenhouse gas emissions; reducing other air pollutants; addressing toxic chemicals; cleaning up hazardous waste sites; and protecting water.

Jackson offered little detail about how she would pursue those priorities.

But she did indicate she had a broad interpretation of key environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, which was last updated in 1988, and the Clean Air Act, which was last updated in 1990. Those laws, she said, "were meant to address not only the issues of today, but the issues of tomorrow."

Jackson, 46, holds degrees in chemical engineering from Tulane University and Princeton University. She worked as a career employee at the EPA for 15 years. Since 2002, she served as head of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection. She would be the first black person to lead the EPA, an agency with 17,000 employees and a $7 billion budget.

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About Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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