EPA chief Lisa Jackson on mountaintop removal, climate legislation, toxics, and more
In a wide-ranging interview with Grist, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson hit on a number of hot-button topics. Here are highlights in video and text. (For more, read the full Q & A.)
On mountaintop-removal mining:
[T]he current state of the law and regs doesn’t allow us to just change the law and the regs to say that this process will no longer be allowable. There’s no way to do that under current law.
What we can do at EPA is commit to a couple things: rigorous scrutiny of permits to make sure that we look at potential impacts to water … [and] we’re gonna do it with one other new improvement, which is to put all the information we have out in a database that’s publicly available … [so] people aren’t trying to guess what EPA’s thinking as it reviews these permits.
On the best part about her job:
The best part is being a part of President Obama’s administration. It’s starting to hit me—the real change in attitude about the environment, the fact that the president sees the environment as a crucial step towards our economic recovery. He sees clean energy as part of the solution. … [A]t its heart, we’re talking about a policy team that really works together to move our country forward on clean energy and addressing climate change.
On whether the EPA is waiting to regulate greenhouse gases until it sees whether Congress will pass a climate bill:
I would like to see new legislation. The president has called for new energy and climate legislation. …
That being said, I thought it was a solemn responsibility that I had as administrator of the EPA to follow the law and do what the Supreme Court said. And certainly if we find that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, that requires EPA to act from a regulatory standpoint.
On whether the U.S. will have a domestic climate policy in place by December, when international climate talks will take place in Copenhagen:
I certainly hope so. I want to remain optimistic that we will.
On issues beyond climate change:
We have to talk about air pollution still. … Climate change is a long-term threat, but things like ozone pollution and particulate pollution is much shorter and can have acute health impacts, even death. …
[W]e have too many communities that are struggling to find clean drinking water. …
We have a huge agenda on toxics. … The president’s commitment to refunding [Superfund] through a “polluter pays” tax is music to our ears here at EPA. … Many people aren’t as familiar with EPA’s role in evaluating toxic chemicals and assessing risk of chemicals. I would like to see a robust and modernized program there as well.
On environmental justice:
I would like to see … folks who have been advocating on environmental justice … have a seat at the table and a voice and [know] that they’re listened to. …
[And] we don’t just [want to] deal with the bad stuff, but as we see this new economy growing — green jobs, green collar, green energy … — that we get some of that good stuff going as well, so that a lot of communities who may feel separate from environmental issues suddenly have a real stake in them, because they literally make their living through green energy or through site cleanup. We’ve seen some amazing success stories in the brownfields program where you give jobs to people to help clean up sites in their own community. And you don’t just give someone a job when that happens, you build an environmentalist from the ground up.
On Obama’s green team:
We’ve started to use the term “green Cabinet” … We meet at least monthly … really try to find ways to break down the silos that have traditionally stymied federal policymaking and action.
On being at the EPA now:
[It's] a dream come true. … I think if you ask any career civil servant in the building, “If you could do anything for EPA over the last eight years, what would you do?”, they would say, “I’d like to bring the place back, I’d like to value the employees, I’d like to make the American people know how important the work is that we do and how serious it is that we take it” — and I get to do that. … [I]t’s worth moving the family, selling the house, getting here as soon as possible, because from the president to every single one of the employees, it’s just been an incredible experience, really an honor.
Watch the video:
Want more? Read the full Q & A.