Muckraker: Grist on Politics

In our post last night on Lisa Jackson, the likely head of EPA under Obama, we noted that the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which advocates for state and federal environmental employees, has been highly critical of her work in New Jersey. The group put out a scathing press release about why she shouldn’t be appointed earlier this week.

Brad Plumer has an excellent post looking at Jackson’s critics, her friends, and the controversy over her appointment of a lobbyist from the New Jersey Builders Association to be her assistant commissioner to oversee water quality and land-use permits.

It should be noted that among the other things PEER criticized is Jackson’s insufficient action on toxic waste clean-up in the state. Their critique cites a June 2008 report [PDF] from the U.S. EPA Office of Inspector General that slammed the state for delays and mismanagement of seven state-supervised Superfund clean-ups. While the OIG is quite critical of the DEP — and recommended that the federal EPA assume responsibility for the clean-up — it also notes that the problem originated two decades ago.

Another source of criticism was her handing of a cases of mercury poisoning at the Kiddie Kollege daycare center in Franklin Township, N.J. early in her tenure. At least a third of the 60 children at the daycare were found to have abnormally high levels of mercury in their bodies. The fact that a daycare center was operating out of a building that had previously housed a thermometer manufacturer — which caused it to have mercury vapor levels at least 27 times the regulatory limit — apparently went unnoticed by DEP officials. Jackson was criticized for not shutting down the daycare until three months after state officials discovered the problem, but again, it was a problem that predated her time at the agency.

Her supporters point out that Jackson took over an agency which had for years been riddled by mismanagement, budget cuts, and personnel shortages. While most states are facing a budget crisis this year, New Jersey’s is among the worst, and this year saw another round of deep cuts — which Jackson argued against.

State Gov. Jon Corzine (whom enviros in the state are much less happy with) has praised her for being “absolutely committed to the kind of clean-up that some her critics would say she should have done more of … I think Lisa has done a remarkable job of trying to move the environmental agenda forward within a constrained world.”

See Brad’s piece for more on the wrangling over Jackson.