Lisa Jackson. Photo: Jose Moreno / AP
Lisa Jackson.

Lisa Jackson is Obama’s pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sources close to the transition confirm.

Jackson, who’s been working on Obama’s transition team for the EPA, has served since 2006 as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. In that position, she’s overseen implementation of the state’s climate plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 2006 levels by mid-century. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) recently chose her to be his next chief of staff, a role she was slated to take up on Dec. 1 before she was swept up into the transition.

Corzine has praised her work highly. “Lisa Jackson is, without question in my mind, someone who has overwhelmingly been successful as an environmentalist, but also she has also been a person who understands that we have to move in a disciplined, thoughtful manner. We can’t do everything at once,” Corzine told Think Progress recently. “I think Lisa has done a remarkable job of trying to move the environmental agenda forward within a constrained world.”

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which lobbies on behalf of the energy sector, also struck a hopeful note on her selection. “Lisa Jackson is a dedicated public servant with time in service at the EPA and as head of a state agency. She has experience with enforcement and rulemaking matters,” he said. “Moreover, as head of an agency in New Jersey, she has had real-world experience dealing with areas of scenic beauty, large populations, and substantial industrial development. We hope that means she will bring a true sense of balance to a very complicated job.”

The Newark Star-Ledger solicited some immediate reactions from those who have worked with her, and found mixed reviews:

“The best part about her was her practical sense of always keeping the environment first and also being realistic and reasonable, and that’s a recipe for getting things done, and that’s why I’m so thrilled she’s going to Washington,” said John McKeon (D), chair of the Assembly Environment Committee. …

“Lisa Jackson would be an outstanding EPA administrator,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey. …

But Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) called Jackson unqualified. “Under her watch, New Jersey’s environment only got dirtier, incredible as that may seem,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

PEER also issued a highly critical press release earlier this week arguing that Jackson is “a pliant technocrat who will follow orders” and “should not run EPA.” “Jackson embraced policies at DEP echoing the very practices at the Bush EPA which Senator Barack Obama condemned during the presidential campaign,” PEER claims. “DEP employees describe Ms. Jackson as employing a highly politicized approach to decision-making that resulted in suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag order and threats against professional staff members who dared to voice concerns.”

Jackson, a native of New Orleans, attended Tulane University on a scholarship from Shell Oil Co., earning a degree in chemical engineering and anticipating a career in the petrochemical industry. But Jackson went on to earn a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1986, where she became inspired to use her engineering skills to prevent pollution.

She worked for the U.S. EPA for 16 years, from 1987 until 2002, both at national headquarters in Washington and at the regional office in New York City. During that time, she managed the Superfund program for the New York regional office and later served as deputy director and acting director of the region’s enforcement division.

Jackson came to the NJDEP in March 2002 to serve as the assistant commissioner of compliance and enforcement. In 2005, she became the DEP’s assistant commissioner for land use management, heading up the state programs for land-use regulation, water supply, geological survey, watershed management, and water monitoring and standards. In January 2006, she took the helm of the DEP.

If confirmed, Jackson would be the first African American to head the EPA.