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Friday, January 16, 2009

New E.P.A. Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, vows to put science first

E.P.A. Pick Vows to Put Science First

by John M. Broder, New York Times, January 14, 2009

WASHINGTON — Lisa P. Jackson, chosen to head the Environmental Protection Agency, said at her confirmation hearing Wednesday morning that her first task would be to restore scientific and legal integrity to an agency battered by charges of political interference and coziness with industry.

But she evaded questions on whether as administrator of the E.P.A. she would immediately grant authority to California and 16 other states to regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions, promising only a speedy review of the issue. Nor did she directly answer questions on whether and how the agency would address regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, an authority granted the E.P.A. by the Supreme Court in 2007.

The Bush administration has declined to act on either matter.

Her promise to be guided by science and the law was an implicit rebuke of the management of the E.P.A. under President Bush, where career officials’ recommendations were sometimes ignored in decisions regarding lead in the air, arsenic in water, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“Science must be the backbone of what E.P.A. does,” Ms. Jackson said in her opening statement to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “If I am confirmed, I will administer with science as my guide. I understand the laws leave room for policymakers to make policy judgments. But if I am confirmed, political appointees will not compromise the integrity of E.P.A.’s technical experts to advance particular regulatory outcomes.”

Ms. Jackson, 46, holds degrees in chemical engineering from Tulane University and Princeton University. She worked as a career employee at E.P.A. for 15 years and most recently served as head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection,

Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the committee, said she had waited a long time for new leadership at the environmental agency. “E.P.A. works for the American people and in my view we have seen it hurt the American people these past eight years,” she said. The agency, she added, “needs to be awakened from a deep and nightmarish sleep.”

Ms. Jackson said that President-elect Barack Obama believes that sound stewardship of the environment can co-exist with economic growth. “Done properly,” she said, “these goals can and should reinforce each other.”

She said that the new administration’s environmental priorities would be curbing global warming, reducing air pollution, cleaning up hazardous waste sites, regulating toxic chemicals and protecting water quality.

Republicans on the committee expressed concern that Ms. Jackson would try to do too much at E.P.A. Senator John Barrasso, the newly-elected Republican from Wyoming, cautioned Ms. Jackson against using the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“Ranchers and miners in Wyoming know that addressing climate change through the Clean Air Act is a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

That drew a rebuke from Ms. Boxer, who said that Mr. Barrasso had not read the Clean Air Act or did not accept Supreme Court decision giving the E.P.A. power to regulate carbon dioxide under it.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, noted that former Vice President Al Gore and many other experts of global warming had suggested that a tax on carbon would be a more effective means of reducing carbon emissions than a cap-and-trade system like the one advocated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Ms. Jackson said that it was a legitimate subject for debate, but that she would support Mr. Obama’s preference for cap-and-trade, under which a limit is set on emissions and polluters must buy or trade permits to meet it.

Mr. Inhofe also made Ms. Jackson promise to read a speech he delivered on the Senate floor last week, citing a number of scientists and other experts who question the consensus view on global warming.

Mr. Inhofe left Ms. Jackson, a native of New Orleans, with a warning. “This job is no Mardi Gras,” he said. “This job is really tough.”

After committee members finished questioning Ms. Jackson, they turned to the appointment of Nancy Sutley, 46, currently deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Ms. Sutley told the committee that she intended to move the nation toward reliance on cleaner forms of energy, to protect public health and to combat global warming. She did not detail how she, Ms. Jackson and Carol Browner, the designated White House coordinator for energy and the environment, would divide their responsibilities. Ms. Browner’s post does not require Senate confirmation.

Senator Boxer said she expected the committee to vote favorably on both nominees on Inauguration Day or shortly thereafter.

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