Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on Friday unveiled tougher standards for controlling soot pollution, and in the process fueled rumors about whether or not she plans to stay on for President Obama’s second term.
In a call with reporters, Jackson skirted questions about whether she might leave the administration. Earlier in the day, she e-mailed EPA staff to congratulate them for the last four years of work and cited “historic and important steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.”
In her memo, titled “Looking Forward,” Jackson added: “Despite our progress, there is more to do in the next four years. I expect that we will stay focused on the core elements of our mission,” including reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and managing chemical risk.
Pressed on her plans, Jackson replied: “On days like today, I’m reminded of the incredible importance of this agency, and we are pretty proud of the e-mail that went out today,” Jackson said. “There is plenty of work still to do.”
Clean Air Watch President Frank O’Donnell said Jackson’s positive, forward-looking e-mail indicates she might be planning to leave. He noted that Marge Oge, who retired this fall as EPA’s top vehicle-emissions regulator, “said similar types of things to a group of us as she was heading for the door.”
He also pointed out that Princeton University, where Jackson went to school, is looking for a new president. “I think Jackson would be a great fit,” said O’Donnell, himself a Princeton alumnus.
Other sources close to Jackson say her decision to leave right now would make sense given that she would leave on a positive note completing the tougher soot standards, an accomplishment she wanted to complete as administrator.
From a White House strategic perspective, a departure by Jackson would spur worries about the prospect of a tough fight to confirm her replacement. EPA policies under Obama have spurred criticism among Republicans, and that could make for contentious hearings on a confirmation. A likely successor to Jackson is Bob Perciasepe, Jackson’s deputy. Both environmentalists and people in the energy industry have told National Journal that they would be comfortable with Perciasepe as the choice. He might be easier to confirm than some other candidates.
If she stays, Jackson, who is black, would also provide some diversity in a second-term Obama Cabinet that is so far shaping up to be dominated by white males.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s announcement of a tougher standard for soot pollution, which comes from a range of sources like power plants and cars, triggered a wave of positive comments from environmentalists and Democrats and a roughly equal amount of criticism from Republicans and industry groups.
The standard doesn’t create any new regulation but instead prompts a process by which counties must ensure they meet the standard. Several regulations put in place in recent years ensure that the vast majority of counties already meet the standard, Jackson and Gina McCarthy, EPA’s top air chief, said in Friday's teleconference.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., said Friday’s rule “is the first in an onslaught of postelection rule-makings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy and eventually push us over the ‘regulatory cliff.’ ”
Carol Browner, who was Obama’s top energy and climate aide for the first two years of his administration, praised the tougher standard and called on EPA to “continue to fight for cleaner air with protections against carbon pollution from power plants.”
At a National Journal event earlier this month, Browner said she hoped Jackson would stay on as administrator but wouldn’t comment on her expectations about Jackson's future.
“I certainly hope so. I think she has done an amazing job,” Browner said. “I think she is an incredibly effective leader, a great spokesman for the issues under EPA’s jurisdiction.”