LIANE HANSEN, host:
This past week, the Environmental Protection Agency released a long-secret document containing the Bush administration's conclusions on global warming. The Bush-era document from December of 2007 said that greenhouse gases were dangerous and needed to be regulated under the Clean Air Act. I spoke with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson this past week at the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters. And she defined what she sees as the key differences in the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration.
Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator, EPA): I like to say that EPA is back on the job, working on behalf of the American people for public health, for environmental quality. On my very first day in the job, I put out a memo that we still live by. It hasn't been a year yet, but it talks about overarching, sort of, dedication to the best science we can muster internally and when we work externally with the many experts on environmental science outside this agency, conformance to the rule of law and most importantly, as it's turned out, transparency.
HANSEN: Transparency is a big item.
Ms. JACKSON: It is, to me. And I think it's a tool to get the other two - the protection of public health and the environment.
HANSEN: Well, the EPA released a document that had been secret or had been put away or had been buried during the Bush administration about conclusions on global warming. You made the decision to release the document. Explain the differences between your proposed findings on greenhouse gases and what the Bush document stated.
Ms. JACKSON: The Bush-era document was done by many of the same scientists. They're career scientists - that's the beauty of the career federal system. And so, not surprisingly, in many parts, they're word for word the same. The biggest difference is that we have an increased emphasis on human health, on public health in the Obama administration's proposed endangerment of finding than the Bush administration-era finding, which unfortunately was never released.
HANSEN: And now that it has been released and now that you are the one to be setting policy within the Obama administration, what steps are you taking to protect the health of people, particularly as it is affected by these greenhouse gases?
Ms. JACKSON: We're going to follow the law, right? The Clean Air Act - all this work happens under the auspices of the Clean Air Act, a wonderfully named statute because it does what it says it's supposed to do. And so the Clean Air Act basically outlines a framework for dealing with a pollutant if it endangers public health and welfare. The very first place we would regulate greenhouse gas pollution would be cars and in fact, that rule has already been proposed.
HANSEN: Would you say these are cure steps or preventative steps - to kind of put it in a health care metaphor?
Ms. JACKSON: Yeah. Unfortunately, they are not preventative because one of the things we know about climate change is that in the atmosphere, CO2 lasts a very long time. And so the CO2 emissions from literally decades of industrialization and fossil fuel-based energy are going to be with us for a long time. This is looking forward to say, there really will be requirements. And we should probably talk a little bit about whether they'll be EPA's requirements or new law; that comes out of the Congress. But either way, there will be requirements that will clamp down on carbon pollution, that will make - there'd be a real price to emitting carbon dioxide.
HANSEN: Let's talk about whether it's going to come out of Congress or going to come out of the EPA. There was a recent op-ed in the New York Times. Democratic Senator John Kerry, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said this, and I'll quote about the climate change legislation that's working its way through the Senate : If Congress does not pass legislation dealing with climate change, the Obama administration will use the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations. Imposed regulations are likely to be tougher, and they certainly will not include the job protections and investment incentives we -meaning the Senate - are proposing. What is your response to them?
Ms. JACKSON: Well, in general, I absolutely agree with them that legislation is the best way to address a number of issues that the legislation currently in the proposal that passed the House, and the one now we have in the Senate, does attempt to address.
The regulations that we have put forth in draft and the process that we're on -I like to remind people - is compelled by the law. I do not believe - and this is another fundamental difference - the Bush administration never accepted the need to regulate greenhouse gases. That's why the endangerment finding was never released.
I don't believe that there's a choice to be had there. I think it's critically important that where the American people believe where there's information out there, EPA is going to put it out. Even in those cases, Liane, where we might say, listen, we don't know the final - sort of the end of the road, but we're going to tell you what we know at milepost, you know, one. And we're all going to get to milepost, say, 10 together. But here's what we know so far.
And a lot of times, the distrust that develops of government in general is about the belief that there's information that you're not sharing with us. And that's not fair.
HANSEN: I'm not sure how many people know that you were actually raised in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.
Ms. JACKSON: That's right.
HANSEN: And the president visited New Orleans to survey Hurricane Katrina recovery. What's your own assessment of the cleanup of some of those toxic sites it left in the hurricane's wake?
Ms. JACKSON: I think there is still work to do. I think New Orleans right now is an extraordinary opportunity, it's extraordinary promise. We've seen some fulfillment of that promise on lots of work that has to happen when you literally start to rebuild a great American city, in parts from almost scratch. And then, of course, there's the human element, which I feel very strongly because of my own mom who, you know, lived in the city until we drove her out.
There is a need to be very mindful of environmental justice impacts, about communities who say, as we clean up, let's not - let's make sure that the neighborhoods where we are repatriating are not somehow selected solely for those areas where we need to put new facilities for disposal or treatment of waste. I think those are all valid concerns, but I think the most important thing is forward movement.
HANSEN: Lisa Jackson is the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Thank you so much for inviting us to your office here in Washington.
Ms. JACKSON: Oh, it was great to have you here. Come back.
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HANSEN: You can hear more of my interview with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on our Web site, NPR.org.