Ups and downs of Lisa Jackson’s tenure

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

Lisa Jackson’s announcement today that she is retiring as head of the Environmental Protection Agency guarantees she won’t be revisiting her plan to limit smog in 2013 after President Obama shoved it to the side more than a year ago.

For Jackson, her tenure has had its ups and downs.

Jackson was successful in creating the first national standards for mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants and increasing the fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

She told the New York Times that the most important decision in her four years is the endangerment finding that marked carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Her decision to leave comes less than two weeks after she announced that the EPA updated its clean air standards for particulate matter (PM2.5) from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms, a decision that could have implications here in Buffalo where the DEC is monitoring air quality at the Peace Bridge. PM2.5 are air pollutants 100 times thinner than human hair that are generally emitted from fossil-fuel burning industry and vehicles. Numerous health studies have linked these particles to respiratory diseases.

“This means that areas where the annual average is above 12 micrograms will be in violation of EPA’s Ambient Air Quality Standards,” said Natasha Soto, a community organizer with the Clean Air Coalition of WNY.

The EPA said that by 2030, standards that reduce PM2.5 from diesel vehicles and equipment should prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions and 4.7 million days of work lost due to illness.

“These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act. We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air,”  Jackson said in a prepared statement Dec. 14.

You can check Buffalo-area air quality at this site or check this PDF for annual totals from 2008-2010.

The EPA estimated that the health benefits of the revised standard would range from $4 billion to $9 billion annually and the estimated costs of implementing the new standard would be $53 million to as high as $350 million.

Balancing the benefits against the cost of implementing any new regulation was probably one of the biggest challenges Jackson faced as EPA chief. For example, the Obama administration last year didn’t support her effort to strengthen the national ambient air quality standards for ozone because of the uncertainty and cost to the industry.

Not only was the president putting up roadblocks to stricter ozone rules as evidenced by Obama’s statement and a letter  from Cass R. Sunstein,  head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs – but some Republicans lawmakers were at times ruthless in their questioning of Jackson’s effort to curb greenhouse gases.

Jackson also is under investigation by the inspector general for apparently using a secret email account to communicate with folks in the Obama administration, which may have violated open record laws.

So the big question is how effective will the Obama administration be on climate change without Jackson?

The answer might fall to John Kerry, nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

 

Related:

EPA Fracking Regulation To Fall On Lisa Jackson’s Successor