Profile: Lisa Jackson
While the focus has been on the US Senate, the Environmental Protection Agency, under its administrator, Lisa Jackson, has been quietly preparing to crack down on coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, as never before. She has said the idea that progress on the environment has to hurt the economy is a “false choice” — greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. Steps are being taken to regulate greenhouse gases from automobiles, power plants and factories as well as mainstream pollutants, which can cause diseases.
By Timothy Gardner in New York Times and International Herald Tribune (26 July 2010):
WASHINGTON — A proposed rule on mercury, a pollutant bad for fish and the people who eat too many of them, could help the administration of President Barack Obama get near its short-term climate goal, even if the U.S. Congress fails this year or next to pass a bill tackling greenhouse gases directly.
Senate Democrats crafting an energy bill have abandoned it until September, and for the rest of the year they probably will not debate climate measures like carbon caps on power plants and mandates for utilities to produce more power from renewable sources like wind and solar.
But while many people concerned about climate control have been focusing on the Senate, the Environmental Protection Agency, under its administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, has been quietly preparing to crack down on coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, as never before.
Under Ms. Jackson — who has said the idea that progress on the environment has to hurt the economy is a “false choice” — the agency declared late last year that greenhouse gases endangered human health and welfare.
The agency has begun to take steps to regulate greenhouse gases from automobiles, power plants and factories. But its proposed rules on mainstream pollutants, those that can cause diseases, may limit carbon dioxide emissions the most.
While the agency is considering new rules for coal, its proposal for emissions of mercury, which go up smokestacks at coal-fired power plants and enter the environment, could pack a bigger punch.
The rule, which the agency was required by U.S. courts to issue by November 2011, is likely to help push many of the oldest and dirtiest emitters of carbon into retirement.
Environmental groups and a nurses’ group sued to compel the agency to issue the rules, which it has to start enforcing three years after issuing them.
Scientists say mercury from coal accumulates in many fish. Children exposed to the metal, through mother’s milk or by eating contaminated fish, are at risk of learning and developmental problems. Adults who eat too many contaminated fish also face risks.
When combined with the agency’s other current and coming rules on “criteria” pollutants, like ones that cause acid rain and smog, the mercury measure would require utilities to invest tens of millions of dollars on technologies to remove the substances.
Many of those plants are about 50 years old and are already inefficient.
“Those investments are just not going to be justifiable,” said Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs at Ceres, a group of environmentalists and institutional investors.
François Broquin, who has written reports on coal for Bernstein Research, said the combined rules could push as much as 20 percent of U.S. coal-fired electric generation capacity into retirement by 2015. “Obviously that will have an impact,” he said.
Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group, said that retirement of a large number of coal-fired plants could help the country exceed Mr. Obama’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020, measuring from 2005 levels.
“We’ve thought for a long time that proper enforcement of the Clean Air Act, laws already on the books, can have the unintended benefit of really doing something on climate,” he said.
The World Resources Institute, an international environmental group, said Friday that aggressive action on existing U.S. national rules and state plans could reduce emissions almost as much as Mr. Obama wants by 2020. But it said implementation of the proposed rules on mercury and other issues could get even closer.
Utilities are likely to replace coal-powered plants with plants that burn natural gas, which emits half the carbon that coal does. Alternative energy sources like wind and solar power, which provided most of the U.S. electricity capacity added last year, could also become more attractive to utilities.
To be sure, the rate of retirements may also depend on the price of natural gas, which is relatively cheap now, as new drilling technologies have granted access to vast new supplies.
In addition, coal companies and utilities could sue to stop or delay implementation of the rules.
But several utilities have already announced plans to shut coal plants.
They know the agency is also considering rules like regulating coal ash waste since a dike ruptured in 2008 at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal plant, unleashing a gush of slurry that flattened houses. Cleaning up after the disaster could cost $900 million.
Additional rules on chemicals that cause smog would add new costs, either to comply with or fight in court.
The agency’s rules alone would not get to the huge reductions of 80 percent in greenhouse gases by 2050 that scientists say are required to stop the world from suffering the worst effects of climate change. Ultimately, Congress would have to create a law to achieve those cuts.
Until that happens, the agency’s rules could serve as a bridge.
The rules are also not going to achieve Mr. Obama’s 2020 reduction goals, Mr. Broquin of Bernstein Research said, “but they are a first and important step.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 26, 2010
An earlier version of this article erroneously described Lisa P. Jackson as a former chemical engineer. Ms. Jackson received a scholarship from an oil company but never worked as an engineer.
Lisa P. Jackson is the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for the Obama administration.
She has 20 years of experience as an environmental regulator and a reputation as a consensus builder. Ms. Jackson brought a more policy-driven approach to New Jersey’s historically politicized Department of Environmental Protection as its commissioner. During her 33 months in that job, the state began conducting compliance sweeps to crack down on polluters in environmentally ravaged sections of Camden and Paterson, ended its controversial bear hunt and unveiled a plan to reduce carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Like her former boss, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, Ms. Jackson supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton over Mr. Obama in the Democratic presidential primaries. Besides making a $1,000 donation to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007, Ms. Jackson was an at-large delegate pledged to Mrs. Clinton; only later in 2008 did she donate $200 to the Obama campaign. Shortly after she was named Mr. Corzine’s chief of staff in late October — taking over on Dec. 1, becoming the first woman and first African American to hold the post — she was chosen by President-elect Obama in mid-November to serve on his transition panel for energy and the environment.
She was an administrator in the federal Environmental Protection Agency for 16 years, where her duties included regulating the cleanup of hazardous waste sites under the Superfund program. She also ran various enforcement programs at both the E.P.A. and New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, as well as New Jersey’s Land Use Management Program.
The E.P.A. criticized New Jersey in a recent report for moving too slowly to clean up some toxic waste sites. Some environmentalists also say she caved in to pressure from big business by supporting a plan that would privatize cleanup of hazardous waste sites, and from developers by diluting a proposal to enact stricter groundwater quality standards.
Although her tenure at the Department of Environmental Protection involved dealing with an assortment of volatile political issues, Ms. Jackson’s measured approach won praise even from those who opposed her decisions; those diplomatic skills led Mr. Corzine to name her his chief of staff.
Ms. Jackson was born Feb. 8, 1962, in Philadelphia; she was adopted a few weeks later and raised in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. First in her class at St. Mary’s Dominican High School (she once described her academic career, saying, “I was a straight ‘A’ student a geek basically”), she graduated summa cum laude from Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering and earned a master’s in chemical engineering from Princeton University. An avid cook, her signature dish gumbo is a tribute to her Louisiana roots. She is renowned for her annual Mardi Gras party, which she has not thrown since Hurricane Katrina devastated her hometown in 2005.