Disappointed By Congress, EPA Pursues Climate Change

The last time we spoke to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in October of last year, she was pretty hopeful that Congress would pass a climate change bill. They didn't, and now the agency is issuing new rules and regulations that will do some of the things it hoped Congress would. Host Liane Hansen asks Jackson how she responds to critics who say the EPA is overstepping its authority.

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This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

President Obama and members of his administration are in New Orleans this weekend, marking the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson is there and with us. It's nice to speak with you again.

Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator, EPA): You, too, Liane. How are you?

HANSEN: I'm well, thank you. Being in New Orleans now five years later, what do you see that still needs to be done there that the EPA can do?

Ms. JACKSON: There's lots of work here. There's a need to reinforce all the wonderful efforts around livability, green buildings, sustainability that there are taking hold in everything from school construction to home construction. And, of course, there's - like any urban area - but certainly New Orleans is no stranger to the need to continually focus on brown fields, on contaminated land that would be and could be redeveloped but for, you know, sort of the investment of some public money that starts the economic engine rolling.

HANSEN: I wanted to ask something about the BP oil spill in a moment. But first, I'd like to return to a conversation we had last October when you were hopeful that Congress would pass a climate change bill and they didn't.

Now your agency is issuing new rules and regulations, doing some of the things you hoped Congress would do; limiting emissions from cars and trucks, requiring some companies to install new technologies to reduce pollution. But how do you respond to critics who say the EPA is overstepping its authority?

Ms. JACKSON: You know, Liane, in some ways we haven't changed our posture. I mean, I've still called for and believe that legislation is a more comprehensive, better, more efficient way to make, you know, low-carbon emissions part of our economic fiber, part of our sort of our fiber as a country, as we grow. That hasn't changed. And they other thing that hasn't changed is my belief that I have a legal and an obligation under the Clean Air Act to move forward with regulatory steps.

Now, I've said all along that this isn't either or, you can't pick legislation or regulation entirely. You have to move in a way where those two - if you have them - are consistent. So what we'll continue to do is take regulatory steps, but they'll be modest, each and every one, because the economy business needs time to understand the regulations that are coming at them. And so there won't be any huge shocks to the system.

HANSEN: Do you have any hope that the Congress will pass a climate change bill anytime soon?

Ms. JACKSON: As far as climate change, I think there's been a lot of work done over the past month to re-establish that manmade changes to the climate are happening. And as we move past sort of the climate-gate era, and I think we are, my hope is that Congress will come back to think about that question once again.

HANSEN: The oil spill that has really devastated parts of Louisiana, other Gulf Coast states, what do you think is going to be the long term effects of the spill on the environment down there?

Ms. JACKSON: There're sort of two impacts. There's the environmental impact just in terms of critters impacted, ecosystems destroyed, impact on wetland, impact on beaches, impact on the economy as a result, impact on culture and way of life. All that I think is going to take - it's going to be a bit more complex question than just, you know, acres and acres and acres of marsh that died - we're not seeing that impact.

We're actually seeing - because the amount of oil that washed up was less than originally feared, we're seeing some indication that the real impacts may well be in the deeper marine environment. And that's an environment that hasn't been studied enough, even pre-spill. And so the research that needs to go on is that much more critical in my mind.

HANSEN: Lisa Jackson is the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She joined us from New Orleans, Louisiana. Thank you so much.

Ms. JACKSON: Thanks again for having me, Liane.

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