EPA chief: Agency feeling heat from right and left

The Environmental Protection Agency faces an "unprecedented … overreaction" as Republicans put Clean Air Act rules at the center of their political attack on so-called "job-killing" regulations, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said on Friday.

But Jackson noted that several Obama administration moves also have angered environmentalists and some Democrats. The EPA is now actively seeking to mend fences on both sides of the political aisle, Jackson said at a breakfast event sponsored by Politico.

"We need to tell people who care deeply about the environment that we've made amazing strides," she said. "There's tons we've done and I don't think often enough we tell what we've done."

To some extent, EPA's slew of new pollution-control regulations, most of which require coal-fired power plants to curb emissions of greenhouse gases and toxins like mercury, arsenic, and sulfur dioxide, are a natural target for today's tea party-driven agenda against government regulation of industry. Republicans and so-called super PACs are putting the regulations at the center of their campaigns to defeat President Obama and reclaim the Senate in 2012.

On the other side, Jackson has come under attack lately from environmentalists who say her agency hasn't done enough on regulations. Many in the environmental community were deeply dismayed after Obama last month delayed a major rule that would have limited allowable smog, or ground-level ozone. Some environmentalists called on Jackson to step down over the decision.

While environmentalists aren't likely to cross party lines in 2012, their disappointment with the administration could dim the energy of a key part of the Democratic base, the same groups that helped get out the vote for Obama in 2008.

Jackson is touring farm states ahead of EPA's forthcoming rules on farm dust, claiming they won't harm agriculture's bottom line. The rule would rein in pollution of "particulate matter," which can be inhaled and damage lungs, and would cut down on air concentrations of soot and dust. Farm-state Republicans are working on legislation to block the rule.

Jackson said that if she had to do one thing differently in her tenure, she would have preemptively reached out to farmers to let them know about the farm-dust rules and what they entailed, rather than doing damage control after it became a partisan political issue.

"It is always harder to go back and talk to people after they've been frightened about what you do," she said. "I think I would have spent more time doing that proactively, had I known how quickly the seeds would spread."

Jackson said she will remind green groups that EPA brokered historic deals with auto companies to lower tailpipe emissions by 2025 and that it's in the process of implementing the nation's first-ever regulations on greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

She acknowledged EPA has another big decision that could anger environmentalists, depending which way it goes: In the coming weeks, EPA must recommend to the State Department whether it should approve the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would import oil extracted from the Canadian tar sands. Environmentalists, who demonstrated for weeks in front of the White House this summer against the pipeline, say approving it could be environmentally devastating, since the tar sands oil extraction process produces 30 percent to 70 percent more carbon emissions than standard oil production.

"That pipeline's a big issue," she said, declining to offer a hint of what her agency would recommend. To date, the State Department has given several signals that it is likely to approve the pipeline.

Jackson noted that the agency is reviewing the safety of the controversial natural-gas extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. The Obama administration has generally spoken favorably of fracking, since it allows production of cheap natural gas, which emits only half the carbon emissions of coal. But it has come under scrutiny as many fear the fracking process could contaminate water tables. The fossil-fuel industry has resisted any regulations on fracking.

"When it comes to natural-gas development, the key is to make sure that we say, 'Engineers, make sure we do it safely without harming water supplies,' and I think we're well on the way," said Jackson. "On chemicals, we don't have data that shows those chemicals showing up in someone's well. Over time that may not be a true statement. Unless there's a problem with well construction, [hydrofracking chemicals] shouldn't end up in aquifers."

For now, companies aren't required to disclose which chemicals they inject in the ground during hydrofracking, but, Jackson said, "disclosure of those chemicals is a very good idea."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.