Going back to Jackson

As I wrote last week, there’s plenty to like about Lisa Jackson, who’s been tapped to run Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency. She’s a skilled administrator with experience at both the US EPA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, where she’s earned rave reviews from many greens and was a key architect of the state’s greenhouse-gas reduction program, and a fine addition to Obama’s team of environmental wonks and policy heavyweights.

Still, as Obama rolls out his environmental “dream team” it’s worth taking a closer look at Jackson’s record. She isn’t uniformly popular among Garden State greens; in fact, a vocal minority is arguing that over the years the former NJ DEP commissioner proved herself too political, too cosy with industry groups, and too willing to neglect issues like clean air, clean water and hazardous waste cleanup.

Leading the push-back is Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which last week put out a remarkably savage press release accusing Jackson of being a “pliant technocrat” cut from the same cloth as current EPA chief Stephen Johnson. “Under her watch, New Jersey’s environment only got dirtier, incredible as that may seem,” said PEER director Jeff Ruch. “One cannot reasonably expect meaningful change if she is appointed to lead EPA.”

Jackson’s critics are especially incensed by her mismanagement of the New Jersey’s Superfund cleanup operations. A new system for managing the state’s toxic-waste program still hasn’t been deployed, more than two years after Jackson told lawmakers that it was her department’s number-one priority. And even the Bush EPA has taken exception to Jackson’s cleanup operations; a report released this summer accused New Jersey of cutting polluters too much slack, and recommended that the federal government take over cleanup operations at seven sites.

There are other problems, too. Early in Jackson’s tenure at the DEP, it emerged that state officials had failed to notice that a daycare center built on the site of a thermometer factory had mercury levels 27 times the legal limit; worse, the daycare center wasn’t shut down until three months after the problem was discovered. Jackson is also accused of suppressing scientific information, seeking to gag agency staffers, and missing important deadlines for implementing the state’s GHG reduction program.

Should all this disqualify Jackson from running America’s national environmental agency? I’m inclined to say that it should not. New Jersey’s environmental woes began long before Jackson took charge; as Brad Plumer notes over at TNR, Jackson actually appears to have done a pretty good job running the DEP in the face of stinging budget cuts and political opposition from business-friendly governor Jon Corzine. Jackson’s record isn’t perfect, but she’s still a good pick to run the EPA.

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I would like to address your comment which you imply let's her off the hook "New Jersey's woes began long before Jackson" . Well that is also the case at EPA.

So what you are saying is that we shouldn't expect much.

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