Late in December, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that she will be stepping down after a little less than four years in the job. From the outset Jackson, a chemical engineer, was plagued by conservative critics who did not want the EPA to play a prominent role in environmental protection. Jackson was repeatedly and ruthlessly criticized by Republicans and industry groups for her efforts to protect the health of Americans and reduce the country’s contribution to climate change. Given that environmental protection is at the core of the EPA’s mandate, their opposition illustrates, yet again, the GOPs anti-environment agenda. It also illustrates how industry controls the Republican party.
Republican resistance to Jackson was due to her brave leadership on issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, greenhouse gas regulations, and power plant emissions reduction. To her credit Jackson did not relent in the face of tireless efforts from House Republicans to undermine the EPA’s power.
The GOP chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton, had been very vocal about his resistance to her efforts and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney went so far as to call for her firing.
In a statement Jackson quoted President Obama when he addressed EPA employees earlier this year. ‘You help make sure the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat are safe. You help protect the environment not just for our children but their children. And you keep us moving toward energy independence…We have made historic progress on all these fronts.”
During her tenure Jackson did succeed on many fronts including reigning in toxic mercury. She established historic fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks (new vehicles must average 54.5 mpg, up from 28.6 mpg). Jackson also set up critical air quality protections against sulfur dioxide and soot pollution.
“In her four years as EPA Administrator, Lisa has been a steadfast advocate for clean air, clean water, a stable climate and public health—often in the face of very vocal and forceful detractors. With her leadership, our country has made a big down payment on its goals to reduce carbon pollution. Millions of Americans will breathe easier and have access to safe, clean water,” said Michael Brune, Sierra Club’s executive director.
President Obama thanked Jackson for serving and praised her “unwavering commitment” to the public’s health. “Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, including implementing the first national standard for harmful mercury pollution, taking important action to combat climate change under the Clean Air Act and playing a key role in establishing historic fuel economy standards that will save the average American family thousands of dollars at the pump, while also slashing carbon pollution.”
Jackson realized that action on climate change would be difficult after watching the Democrat controlled Senate shoot down a cap-and-trade bill in 2009. In 2012 clean-air regulation aimed at reducing smog failed to get the support it needed as did efforts to control toxic coal ash.
Despite setbacks Jackson has done a great deal in the service of the health and well being of Americans.
“I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction, and ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference,” Jackson said in a statement.
In the face of harsh criticism Jackson showed the kind of leadership that is woefully absent on the political level. Although she failed to explain the reason for her departure, it may very well be that she is leaving because of the vehement opposition of industry and the GOP undermine the EPA’s ability to get things done. Like Van Jones and others, Jackson may very well be a causality of Republican pressure.
© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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