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Josh Dorner

Josh Dorner

Posted January 14, 2009 | 01:23 PM (EST)

Lisa Jackson: Music to My Ears


What a difference an election makes. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator-designate Lisa Jackson was in the dock before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today and I agree with Barbara Boxer that Jackson's answers to many questions were "music to my ears." (And that's not just because I now have OutKast's "Sorry Ms. Jackson" running on loop in my head.)

In between invitations to visit the home states of various senators, Jackson addressed some of the most pressing national issues facing the next EPA administrator. Her opening comments were particularly heartening:

President-elect Obama has affirmed two core values that he expects EPA to uphold during his Administration: scientific integrity and the rule of law. He has also made it clear we will operate with unparalleled transparency and openness. I pledge to uphold those values.

Science must be the backbone of what EPA does. The environmental and public-health laws Congress has enacted direct the EPA administrator to base decisions on the best available science. EPA's addressing of scientific decisions should reflect the expert judgment of the Agency's career scientists and independent advisors.

If I am confirmed, I will administer with science as my guide. I understand that the laws leave room for policy-makers to make policy judgments. But if I am confirmed, political appointees will not compromise the integrity of EPA's technical experts to advance particular regulatory outcomes.

The President-elect's commitment to the rule of law is the hallmark of a principled regulatory agency. EPA needs to exercise its policy discretion in good faith and in keeping with Congressional and court directives. I respect this Committee for its diligent efforts to hold EPA to the rule of law in recent years, and I pledge to uphold this principle every day if I am confirmed.

This commitment, of course, stands in marked contrast to the political interference, incompetence, open defiance of courts from the Supreme Court on down, and simple sycophancy that has characterized the Bush administration's EPA (and the tenure of career scientist-turned-hack Stephen Johnson in particular). The panel's Democrats wasted no time in their efforts to call attention to some of the lowlights of the Bush-Johnson EPA and inquire as to the speed with which Jackson/Obama would work to undo some of the damage.

Here too, Jackson's answers were a breath of fresh air. While she judiciously avoided being completely pinned down, Jackson made it clear that the worst actions (or inactions, in many cases) of the Bush-Johnson EPA would be immediately reviewed and dealt with. For instance, Jackson said that the Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. EPA, had compelled EPA to act on global warming, acknowledged that EPA had refused to do so, and said that if confirmed she will resolve this and other issues as soon as possible. And, again, all with a view toward what is required according to the law and sound science.

The California Clean Cars waiver, unlawfully denied by Steve Johnson over the unanimous objections of career EPA lawyers and staff, was brought up by numerous senators. In response to a question about the waiver from a new member of the panel, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Jackson stated she would "very, very aggressively, very, very quickly" review the waiver decision.

Another hot topic was the use of the Clean Air Act and other existing laws to regulate global warming pollution. Jackson was understandably cagey; however, in response to a question from Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, she offered that one of the great things about our environmental laws is that they can not only address the problems of the day they were written, but problems that arise later.

Finally, Boxer allowed Jackson to respond to the scathing criticism offered by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, something which hadn't really come up previously in the hearing. Jackson parried PEER's criticisms well and reiterated the pride she has in her record as head of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection.

The Sierra Club's New Jersey Chapter Director, Jeff Tittel, has been an outspoken proponent of Jackson and all of us at the Club are eager to begin working with Jackson and the rest of the phenomenal energy and environment team that Barack Obama has assembled.