Obama's EPA Pick Would Address Coal Ash Issue

A Senate confirmation was held Wednesday for Lisa Jackson, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Jackson faced questions about coal ash, greenhouse gas emissions and how she plans to undo some of her predecessor's policies.

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In another Senate hearing yesterday, Mr. Obama's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency - Lisa Jackson is her name - was asked about air pollution, toxic coal ash, and reversing some Bush administration policies. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has this report.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Lisa Jackson used to head New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection. So, one of that state's senators, Robert Menendez, helped introduce her. He said she reminded him of a famous T-shirt.

Senator ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): It says, "New Jersey - Only the Strong Survive." Lisa Jackson has not only survived, but she has thrived in developing and implementing policies that have won wide-ranging praise and respect.

SHOGREN: Jackson is a chemical engineer who spent 15 years at the Environmental Protection Agency earlier in her career. She would be the first African-American to head the agency. Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer of California asked her to respond to last month's coal ash spill in Tennessee. Jackson replied by saying she wants to address the threat from huge piles of toxic coal ash stored at hundreds of other coal-fired power plants around the country.

Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator of the EPA-Nominee): I would think that EPA needs to first and foremost assess the current state of what's out there and where there might be another horrible accident waiting to happen.

SHOGREN: Jackson said she'd also consider regulating coal ash, something the EPA has been studying for almost three decades. Boxer urged her to do so quickly, or else.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): If we are not satisfied with action, we may move legislatively.

SHOGREN: Boxer and other senators also pressed Jackson to make good on Mr. Obama's pledge to grant California's request to set tough greenhouse gas standards for cars. The Bush administration turned California down. Jackson said decisions by the Supreme Court and other federal courts have laid the groundwork to start regulating greenhouse gases, and do more to cut other air pollution.

Ms. JACKSON: All those things together mean that there will be an extraordinary burst of activity not just at EPA, but I would expect potentially from Congress.

SHOGREN: Delaware Senator Tom Carper summed up how busy Jackson will be with a comment to her husband, Kenneth.

Senator TOM CARPER (Democrat, Delaware): I just want to say, take a good look at your wife. When you bring her home from the inaugural ball, take a real good look at her. That's the last time you'll see her till Christmas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Senator CARPER: Make sure your kids have plenty of pictures of her. Well, they'll see her on TV.

SHOGREN: Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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