Lisa Jackson, President-elect Barack Obama’s co-chair of his energy and natural resources transition team, has emerged as the top candidate to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Jackson, a 46-year-old African American engineer, left her job as administrator of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to become Gov. Jon Corzine’s chief of staff on December 1. Jackson has a mixed record at the New Jersey DEP, earning praise for her work ethic but criticism for difficulties achieving the department’s mission.
In an exclusive interview with ThinkProgress, Gov. Corzine says Jackson has been “remarkably successful” despite a limited budget and competing state priorities:
Lisa Jackson is, without question in my mind, someone who has overwhelmingly been successful as an environmentalist, but also she has also been a person who understands that we have to move in a disciplined thoughtful manner. We can’t do everything at once. . . I think Lisa has done a remarkable job of trying to move the environmental agenda forward within a constrained world.
Corzine’s view is shared by local environmentalists like the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions’ Sandy Batty, and Environment New Jersey’s Dena Mottola Jaborska, who told Environment and Energy News that Jackson is “a skilled administrator who’s willing to listen” and the “best DEP commissioner that New Jersey had for a long time.” Jackson’s agency “has suffered from a slate of budget cuts by Democratic and Republican governors alike, and thousands of staff positions have been lost over the years.” Struggling to reduce a multi-billion-dollar state debt, Corzine himself has slashed the DEP budget even as the department’s responsibilities have expanded to handle global warming.
The list of problems at the underfunded agency is long. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has been the most critical of Jackson’s potential appointment, claiming “Jackson embraced policies at DEP echoing the very practices at the Bush EPA which Senator Barack Obama condemned during the presidential campaign,” including “suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag orders,” and “closed-door deal-making with regulated industry executives and lobbyists.” PEER’s Jeff Ruch describes Jackson as “a pliant technocrat who will follow orders”:
While Ms. Jackson has a compelling biography, little of what occurred during her 31-month tenure commends her for promotion. Under her watch, New Jersey’s environment only got dirtier, incredible as that may seem.
PEER, which exposed many of the EPA’s worst practices under Stephen Johnson, notes that “Jackson appointed the lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association as her Assistant Commissioner to oversee critical water quality and land use permits,” and “failed to warn parents or workers for months about mercury contamination” at a day-care center in a former thermometer factory.
The next EPA Administrator will have one of the most challenging tasks in the Obama Cabinet, as the long-term threat posed by global warming dwarfs the magnitude of the global financial crisis. Eight years of Bush misrule has left the agency in tatters. Whoever is appointed to run the EPA must be prepared to restore its place as the independent protector of the public’s right to clean air, water, and land from day one.
CORZINE: Lisa Jackson is, without question in my mind, someone who has overwhelmingly been successful as an environmentalist, but also she has also been a person who understands that we have to move in a disciplined thoughtful manner. We can’t do everything at once.
We have the most Superfund sites in America in New Jersey. And we are cleaning them up within the financial capacity of what we have the resources to do. And we need help from the federal government on that.
Having Lisa here, who is absolutely committed to the kind of cleanup that some of her critics would say she should have done more of . . . Those individuals I think some times are not putting it in the context of health care, or education, or other difficult but important responsibilities that government has to take on. I think Lisa has done a remarkable job of trying to move the environmental agenda forward within a constrained world.