As a native of New Orleans and longtime resident of New Jersey the outgoing head of the EPA Lisa P Jackson, witnessed the effects of extreme weather first hand. First when Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans in 2005 and then more recently when New Jersey fell victim to super-storm Sandy in late 2012. Unlike her detractors, she understands that the costs of ignoring climate change are far greater than the costs of addressing it.
“It brings home that if you had to deal with this on a more frequent basis, the more cost to our country in dollars and cents, in lives lost, in lost opportunity to move forward because we have to go back and rebuild all the time,” Jackson said. “It is horribly familiar for me. I have watched it happen in my hometown.”
During her four years, Jackson was repeated attacked by industry and by Republicans who resist clean air and clean water. Although her critics argue for the preeminence of the economy over the environment, this argument is untenable as the staggering economic costs of climate change are increasingly well documented.
Her training in chemical engineering from Tulane and Princeton support her science based approach to engaging climate change. She has achieved three very significant accomplishments as the head of the EPA:
1. Rules to limit carbon emissions from power plants
2. New vehicle fuel efficiency rules
3. The endangerment finding that greenhouse gases pose a danger to human health
What makes the endangerment finding so important is the fact that this formal declaration paves the way for the agency to make rules that cut carbon. Jackson is not optimistic about the ability of Congress to pass comprehensive climate change legislation in the next couple of years. However, the endangerment finding will permit those that come after her to pass more stringent environmental rules.
“The next administrator will have a bit more luxury, because we are not entirely done with those things, but in terms of working with the administration on climate and clean energy, on other things like clean water and toxins, there will be a little more discretion in terms of how the next administrator sets those priorities,” Jackson said.
Although she has accomplished a great deal, Jackson laments not directly engaging the politically damaging rumors that alienated people in rural conservative communities.
Jackson’s tenure at the EPA will be remembered not only because she was the first African-American to hold the post but because she made environmental justice a priority.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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