MADELEINE BRAND, host:
President-elect Barack Obama's choice to head the EPA is a woman named Lisa Jackson. She used to run New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection. The investigative Web site ProPublica has looked into her tenure there and found some contradictions. Joaquin Sapien wrote that article, and he's here now. Now, New Jersey is one of the most polluted states in the country; I believe it has more Superfund sites than any other state. So, really, it is a Herculean task to clean up this state. What's the main complaint against Lisa Jackson?
Mr. JOAQUIN SAPIEN (Writer, ProPublica): Well, when Lisa Jackson first took over at the DEP, one of the first things she did was pledge to reform the state's somewhat beleaguered toxic-cleanup program, and quickly rank and prioritize about 16,000 of the contaminated sites throughout the state of New Jersey. And as it turns out, two years into her tenure, that ranking system was never quite developed and has yet to be deployed. And some of her critics also point to her somewhat lethargic and much-criticized approach toward to two sites in particular, one of which is a day-care center that was built within a former thermometer-manufacturing factory, and another one has to do with a multimillion-dollar community that was built on top of wide swaths of chromium-contaminated land in Hudson County, New Jersey.
BRAND: So, the main complaints against Lisa Jackson were, what, that she acted too slowly, that she was too cozy with industry? What exactly?
Mr. SAPIEN: Well, both. She appointed a former industry lobbyist to head a division of the Department of Environmental Protection that was in charge of drafting environmental regulations, and that presented a clear conflict of interest because this lobbyist's clients had a lot at stake with the drafting of environmental policy. So, that is the point at which critics have said that she is too cozy with industry. As far as her lethargic approach toward cleaning up hazardous-waste sites goes, critics have really honed in on two examples. The day-care center, Lisa Jackson basically said that the DEP immediately responded as soon as they learned that there was a problem at this contaminated site but in fact, it took three months for inspectors to actually shut that site down. The DEP said they needed some time to do testing.
As far as the chromium-contaminated plot of land goes, that's a little bit more of a complicated story. For many years, a group of companies had lobbied to get New Jersey to weaken their chromium standard. That effort was successful. After a Newark Star Ledger investigation came out pointing out this lobbying effort, Jackson's predecessor came in, stopped development on that area, and assigned an independent panel of DEP scientists to look at the chromium standard. When their assessment came out, Jackson lifted the moratorium and lowered the chromium standard, prompting a senior scientist to quit in frustration because she thought that that move was not sufficient to protect public health and was just far too premature.
BRAND: Now, you note in your article that Lisa Jackson is staunchly defended by many of the state's environmental activists. Why are they defending her?
Mr. SAPIEN: Well, many of them point to her work in pushing what they view as an antiregulatory, anti-environment governor to be much more progressive than he would be on environment issues.
BRAND: This is Jon Corzine?
Mr. SAPIEN: Right. New Jersey is attempting to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, and a lot of environmentalists say that Lisa Jackson was responsible for that. But some of her critics also point out that Jackson has failed to meet crucial deadlines for drafting procedures to actually implement law. So, even the point that many of her supporters say makes her qualified for the position to lead EPA has also been criticized by other New Jersey environmentalists. So, we are seeing a little bit of a divide there.
BRAND: Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica, the investigative Web site. His article on Barack Obama's choice to head the EPA, Lisa Jackson, can be found there and at Politico.com. Joaquin, thank you.
Mr. SAPIEN: Thank you.
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