Backyard Talk

Lisa Jackson Steps Down at EPA

The public is loosing a key ally in the fight for clean air, water and environmental justice. Lisa Jackson is resigning as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the end of January. Jackson’s legacy will be her dogged commitment to protecting the environment and supporting environmental justice advocates in the face an incredibly hostile Congress and emboldened industrial lobby. The move is not surprising as few agency administrators stay on during a second presidential term. She will be sorely missed.

Jackson‘s ascendency to the as the head of EPA in 2009 was truly a “breath of fresh air” following the W. Bush years of regulatory purgatory. She was a determined advocate for environmental issues and was constantly butting heads with congressional republicans, industry lobbyists and others who opposed environmental protections under the guise of saving jobs. At no other time since the agency began has there been such organized opposition to the agency.

What Jackson was able to accomplish in her four years is really quite remarkable.  Her administration was instrumental in stopping the Keystone XL oil pipeline, issuing new controls on coal-fired power plants and on particulate pollution, and doubling fuel efficiency standards. Her key successes include the following:

  • Addressing climate change by declaring that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and proposing to use the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
  • Making historic progress in fuel efficiency that will reduce the pollution and carbon footprint of passenger cars and trucks and save consumers billions of dollars while promoting the country’s energy independence.
  • Preventing tens of thousands of illnesses and premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks by far-reaching reductions in mercury and other toxic air emissions from power plants, industrial boilers and cement kilns.
  • Putting in place long-overdue health standards for pollutants including fine particles, soot, and sulfur dioxide that include new targeted monitoring to protect children and other vulnerable people who live near highways or downwind of major sources of pollution.
  • Making measurable progress in restoring critical watersheds such as the Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades and the Great Lakes and taking on the tough issues of nutrient pollution.
  • Reforming toxic chemical oversight by taking action to address the risks of ten chemicals found in everyday products that have been linked to a range of health effects from reproductive and developmental problems to cancer; expanding chemical testing for endocrine disruption; and removing confidentiality claims for more than 150 chemicals.

  • Jackson’s EPA did not always do what was in the best interest of the public. At times it was easy to see that she and her staff had backed down from the political pressures posed by other side. But she was always welcomed pressure for environmental and environmental justice advocates to help her do her job. We could and should have done more of this.

    Replacing Lisa Jackson will not be easy. She clearly cared about the people exposed to toxic chemicals whose lives were directly affected by pollution in the air, land and water. She put in place historic standards that will save tens of thousands of lives and while doing so, EPA engaged in an extensive public engagement process that often gave those most directly impacted a voice in the process. We need to build on this legacy and to make sure that her successor makes the same opportunities available to everyone, not just the corporate polluters.