EPA's Lisa Jackson: 'We're Not the Villain'

The EPA Administrator testifying in September on Capitol Hill, a venue she expects to visit frequently next year. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

On Jan. 1, the Environmental Protection Agency is set to phase in regulations on air and water pollutants, including sulfur oxides, ozone, and, most controversial of all, carbon dioxide. House Republicans have vowed to thwart the EPA at every turn. But Lisa Jackson, the agency’s administrator, says she won’t be deterred. She sat down with NEWSWEEK’s Daniel Stone. Excerpts:

People have said you run, and I’m quoting, a “runaway agency,” with a staff that’s “out of control,” and have called you a “renegade.” What’s your response? I think we need to separate what we’re doing from what we hear lobbyists and CEOs say we’re doing. We laid out three ideas: we would follow the law, and we would follow science, and we would operate transparently. When I hear “renegade,” it sounds like we’re operating outside of the system. But this is the system. The system is designed to make sure our land and water and air are protected.

House Republicans have said they’re going to subpoena you every week. What will be your defense? I can offer facts. I’ll explain all the rules and proposals that are out there, what they do, and how they’ll protect the environment and health of the American people. We’re not doing it without being mindful that the economy is in tight straits.

Would there be room for a compromise to push all these regulations back one or two years? I’m not saying there’s no accommodation that can be made with respect to time. But these regulations are designed to give time and certainty so that industry can plan. I had a CEO in here last week who thanked me for the clean-car rules. He said they were absolutely key, if not the catalyst, to make his industry expand. The irony was, in the state where those jobs are going to be, both senators were looking to pull back EPA’s authority, which would have pulled back the clean-car rules.

One energy CEO in Kentucky told customers their bills would go up 20 percent with new regulations. They do those calculations by assuming the worst-case scenario. We try to work very closely with industry. It’s not fair to have someone speculate about what we might do and then castigate this agency and me personally for something we haven’t done.

Considering the global impact of greenhouse gases, doesn’t it also matter what developing economies do? It is true that climate change is a global phenomenon. Because of the growth in the developing world—China, India, and other countries—we know that carbon emissions may go up. But there’s a need for leadership, and also a need for regulatory certainty.

Clear air and water and a stable environment seem like reasonable things. Do you think you lost control of the messaging? I’ve got to push back on that. You need to separate what happens inside the Beltway echo chamber here with what happens in the countryside. People expect their government to take care of them and their families. Not special interests, not highly paid lobbyists. This agency plays an important role that way. I understand that people need a villain, but this agency is not the villain. My belief has always been that you can have a clean and healthy environment and a thriving economy at the same time.

How much support have you gotten from the president? It’s the other way around. I’m there to support his agenda. He has said EPA is doing its job. I feel very supported by the administration.

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