EPA’s Future Without Administrator Lisa Jackson
President Obama’s team will make some substitutions this New Year. Among the changes will be the departure of his Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Lisa Jackson.
Under her tenure, the EPA found global warming to be a deleterious threat, making way for the agency she led to take steps to reduce greenhouse gases. But she has also acted to cut power plant pollution streams that flow downwind as well as to reduce mercury emissions.
Ms. Jackson, though, is not a lone wolf. She has derived her authority from President Obama. Therefore, whomever replaces Jackson will be just as vigilant. While the actions that she propelled will move forward, the business community has probably seen the administration’s most aggressive positions put forth. The White House will likely be consumed for a period with tax reform, gun control and immigration reform.
“There is much more on the agenda: air pollution, toxic chemicals and children’s health issues, redevelopment and waste-site cleanup issues, and justice for the communities that bear disproportionate risk,” says the now former Administrator Jackson. “So, I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction.”
EPA’s moves have affected the coal sector more than others. Under Jackson’s leadership, her agency found that greenhouse gas emissions harmed public health and the environment. That ruling has since been upheld by the federal courts. And, a year ago, the EPA demanded -- using the 1990 Clean Air Act as its guidepost -- that coal-fired power plants implement best available technologies to cut their mercury emissions by 90 percent.
EPA estimates that the cost of carrying out the new mercury rules will be about $9.6 billion annually. But it also says that payback will be as much as $90 billion by 2016 when all power plants are expected to be in compliance, or closed. The coal industry is upset with the new mercury rules, however, noting that the associated costs and the resulting job losses will be too much for the economy to bear. Manufacturers say that will suffer most, noting that they use a third of all energy supplies.
Lisa Jackson “has a degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University, which means she is smart,” says James Rust, policy advisor for the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank. “I simply strongly disagree with her thinking that the burning of fossil fuels causes global warming and the EPA should stop the use of fossil fuels by regulation.
“Unfortunately, her replacement may pose the same problems by attempting to abolish use of our abundant fossil fuels and propel the United States’ economy to third world status,” he adds.
Who might replace Jackson? The National Journal is listing a handful of possibilities including Gina McCarthy, who is an assistant EPA administrator overseeing air and radiation issues. It also says that New Jersey’s environmental commissioner Bradley Campbell is being considered as well as the former head of Pennsylvania’s environmental protection unit, Kathleen McGinty. Finally, the publication notes that Heather Zichal, who is a top aide on energy and environmental issues in the Obama White House is popular among greenies.
Obviously, the big issue that environmental organizations want to see addressed during Obama’s second term is that of climate change. While the administration has been enacting stricter air quality rules to encourage a shift away from older technologies and into cleaner ones, critics say that those steps are falling short of what is needed. To that end, they are demanding that the United States enact firm carbon cuts to avoid an unnatural rise in global temperatures, which would require endorsing the next round of international climate talks.
What’s next? Increasing economic production and job creation top the administration’s aims. But its path remains centered on a high-tech, clean-tech economy that favors next-generation fuels. The solution then rest with the degree to which officials establish the regulatory nuances in relation to the existing free market forces. It is about optimizing the intersection between ecological and economic concerns.
"My hope is that West Virginia (and the nation) can find common ground in advancing clean coal no matter who is at the helm of this important agency, because new technology is the only realistic and honest path we have to a secure future for our coal industry and, more importantly, our coal miners," says Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-WV.
Lisa Jackson has been a passionate advocate for environmental causes. But she could not have prevailed without the administration’s blessings, meaning that almost no changes will occur in EPA’s philosophy over the next four years.
EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been honored as one of MIN’s Most Intriguing People in Media.