The Protector

EPA head Lisa Jackson�s mission: to guard human health and the environment while creating jobs for the new green economy

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Portrait of Lisa Jackson, Adminstrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Lisa P. Jackson (Photo by Welton B. Doby III)

Lisa P. Jackson, in her job as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, may seem far removed from the everyday concerns of American people. But nothing could be more false, asserts the EPA administrator. “You just have to realize that the environment is the air you breathe and the water that comes out of your tap.” With more than 20 years of experience in environmental protection, and as a married mother of two teenage boys–the younger of whom has asthma and uses an inhaler twice a day–Jackson knows all too well how inextricably the environment is linked to health. She is committed to engaging Americans not only in the health and safety benefits of environmental protection, but also in the economic opportunity in business development and job creation that protecting the environment affords. She also hopes to renew the public’s trust in the EPA’s work.

Just a year ago, before Jackson was sworn in as the first African American administrator of the EPA, the agency had been called one of the most demoralized in the federal government. But the new administrator’s commitment to the environment is unassailable. The White House has sought to empower the EPA to be an enforcer for carbon emissions. At press time, the White House was battling with Congress to determine who will take the lead. “I love to point out that we have ‘protection’ in our name,” says Jackson, who was raised in New Orleans. “If we’re not doing it, there is simply no other agency in the federal family whose job it is to protect the environment.” The agency’s job may have gotten easier: Under the Obama administration, the EPA received a 30% increase in funding–the largest in its history.

To date the EPA has obligated nearly 99% of its Recovery Act funding to states across the nation for a wide variety of projects that will put Americans to work while improving air quality, protecting drinking water, or cleaning up hazardous or blighted land. According to Jackson, the agency’s Recovery Act funding has saved or created nearly 6,800 jobs. We talked with Jackson about her vision and goals for the agency in 2010 and beyond.

Improving air quality and protecting America’s water are two of your top priorities. What progress have you made in those areas?

Last year EPA initiated a program to monitor air quality around some of the nation’s public schools in response to a USA Today article about high levels of particulate matter in the air around the places where our kids go to learn. Parents across the nation read about how children absorb toxic pollutants in the same quantities as adults. In response, EPA launched a nationwide study to test the air around more than 60 schools most at risk.

In December, EPA also proposed new, stricter standards for smog and for NO2 [nitrogen dioxide, which comes from vehicles and industrial facilities]. Smog, also known as ground-level ozone, is linked to a number of serious health problems ranging from aggravation of asthma to increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease. Short-term exposure to NO2 has been linked to impaired lung function and increased respiratory infections, especially in people with asthma.

Today, the portfolio of pollution and other challenges around water quality is more varied than it has ever been. Chemicals seep into our water supply from a variety of less conventional places. That’s why last year I unveiled the Obama administration’s goals for reform of dangerous toxins, chemicals, and pesticides. I also announced plans for a major push to strengthen EPA’s current chemical management program and increase the pace of the agency’s efforts to address chemicals that pose a risk to the public. We invested $6 billion in drinking water and wastewater projects to create a stronger infrastructure for clean water, to boost the economy, and to create jobs. I also directed the agency to revamp our enforcement program, because we can have good regulations that protect our water but we must do a good job of enforcing them.

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  • Ric Weide

    Ms Jackson,
    Based on the insane restrictions of the EPA and several other agencies, I feel you will drive us back to the middle ages with the lack of common sense. I do realize there needs to be sensible habits and better management of resources, but your agency has gone too far and will destroy many very helpful enterprises.
    Now you are favoring what you call black organizations.
    I believe this is is racially motivated and is an affront to the Constitution.
    Please stop it!

  • Mary Ann

    Ms. Jackson, Thanks for your insights. Every American should have safe drinking water and clean air. I appreciate the leadership of the current EPA on these two issues. I disagree with the prevoius commentor Ric Weide who seems to be saying the profits of some businesses should be taking priority over the clean environment for millions of Americans, To advance, Ameica needs to develop alternative sources of clean energy. I hope African Americans, as well as all Americans, can participate in the development of this future, in every capacity.

    • Ric Weide

      Mary Ann,
      The environment is very important to all of us, but when you consider that you will have a very sterile environment to the detriment of people starving due to not having jobs and earning wages to feed their families, you have put the wrong priorities on things.
      We need to place the proper balance on all of it, and not play the politics in placing clean air over no industry.
      Common sense far exceeds politics. Lets make that deal!

  • Im Jackson all the way from Ghana exited to hear such good new from the EPA ..I really enjoyed the article…The kids need your help from the leaders and I hope your Government and the country ‘ll do their best to make our future leaders get some benefit ..

  • BJ Francis, Jr.

    Ms. Jackson, I was in DC for the 2010 AWWA Fly-In to Washington. I was able to read the article at the airport during my departure. I wish I had read your article earlier as I could have tried to arrange a meeting with you while I was there (if you had time of course). I know that you have a very difficult road ahead of you, but I trust that you will lead and guide with the dignity, professionalism and entigrity that prompted the offer and acceptance of your position. I would like to schedule time to visit with you to discuss ways that I can be of a benefit to you (I am not asking for anything, as I am only offering my services to you). I work in the water industry and I am a member of AWWA (Board member for the South West Section). You can contact me by email or by facebook. I appreciate all the hard work that you are investing into keeping all of our natural resources safe today and tomorrow. That is why I am willing to assist you. Every little bit helps. I look forward to your response. Thank you for doing such a fine job thus far. I have the utmost respect for you and the challenges you have faced, are facing, and will face in the future. This is another reason why I am willing to assist you in any way I can.