ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The Bush White House was frequently at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency. That meant many staffers left the agency and those who stayed often were demoralized. Lisa Jackson is the new EPA administrator. She is re-energizing the agency with a sweeping agenda and she's also raising expectations. Jackson made waves recently with a ruling that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health. That opens the way for new — and some say costly — regulations.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Under one possible plan called cap-and-trade, companies would get allotments for carbon dioxide emissions, and they could buy and sell those rights. EPA administrator Jackson is a chemical engineer by training. She was at the EPA for 15 years before becoming New Jersey's Chief Environmental Regulator. We sat down with Jackson in her office this afternoon in one of her first interviews. She dismissed critics who say the cost of reducing greenhouse gases is too high.
Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator, EPA): If you look at the history of environmental laws in this country - big ones, because climate change law, energy law would be big, new legislation - every time that's ever been attempted, the lobbyists out there say, oh, you know, this will shut down the American economy, every last one of you will lose jobs. I mean, its always these hugely over blown doomsday scenarios that overlook the important, sort of, missing ingredient which is American ingenuity and American innovation and the fact that you can indeed build an economy around a move towards green energy.
NORRIS: There are concerns though about the cost to business - the cost to business in the middle of a recession. For instance, under the Clean Era Act, the EPA must regulate all major sources of emission if they admit more than 250 tonnes of air pollutant.
And if that standard applies to carbon suddenly all kinds of unregulated sources would fall under EPA regulations, that includes malls and schools and businesses, hospitals, even farms. Is that too burdensome for those institutions and is the EPA ready to take on that kind of burden?
Ms. JACKSON: Of course that would be a huge burden. If tomorrow those kinds of institutions found themselves operating under some kind of onerous regulation for carbon dioxide, I think they would rightly and fairly say - this isn't something we can handle right away. So what that means is, we should have a transition and a cap-and-trade program would mean a transition slowly to a place where carbon dioxide begins to have a social cost - a real cost that people can make determinations about addressing.
NORRIS: Now how would you, in an ideal world, regulate greenhouse gases from cars? Is California the model?
Ms. JACKSON: Well, I have to be careful because we are in the middle of a regulatory determination on the California standard. But that said, you're sitting right in front of a presidential memorandum that President Obama signed on the first day asking us to re-look at the California car standard and I think that in light of everything that's going on with the auto industry domestically in this country, there couldn't be a more, I guess, apt demonstration of how sustainability issues can factor into economic viability.
Some would argue that asking for cleaner cars might bankrupt the issue and there are those who are argue that not having produced them is what got us to where we are right now. And the president has said, and I couldn't agree more, that what this country needs is a one single national road map that tells automakers who are trying to become solvent again what kind of car it is they need to be designing and building for the American people and that…
NORRIS: Is that the role of the government though, I mean, that doesn't sound like free enterprise.
Ms. JACKSON: Well, it is free enterprise in a way. You know, first and foremost the free enterprise system has us where we are this second and so some would argue that the government already has a much larger role than we might have when Henry Ford rolled the first cars off the assembly line. And the future of the auto industry is also about the future of what fuels we use and what cars we buy and how we get around and transportation in general, and those are the kind of larger discussions that the president had during the campaign and has continued.
NORRIS: Who is going to wield the pen in this case? Do you expect that Congress is going to pass climate change legislation or do you think that you're going to be sitting at that desk right over there and it's going to emanate from this office?
Ms. JACKSON: No, I think I am still optimistic that the move in Congress will be the right one. I first off believe that new law is the way to address this issue - that we need energy and climate legislation in this country, that it is overdue.
NORRIS: But why is this such a tough sell for members of your own party? Where is the resistance?
Ms. JACKSON: Well, I don't know the - resistance is probably stronger than I would put it. I think they are rightfully concerned about economic impacts and about what it means for their regions. And one of the reasons I think legislation is so important here is that for real meaningful transformational change on energy, we need people engaged in the dialogue that happens through the legislative process.
I can certainly try, and I've pledged that if we have to do anything on a regulatory front, we would be as sensitive to that as possible, but nothing, nothing we do here would substitute for the value of having Congress speak on the issue. When you think about our history of environmental legislation in this country, we have great environmental laws. It would be lovely to have Congress add one more to the list.
NORRIS: Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, thank you very much for your time.
Ms. JACKSON: Thank you so much.