Lisa Jackson is stepping down as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after a career marked by elevating the effectiveness of the agency she led. While Jackson’s EPA did not go as far as many on the left had hoped in terms of combating climate change, she spearheaded several important initiatives, including an “endangerment finding” which led to the classification of carbon dioxide and other gases as pollutants allowing for stric emissions standards for cars and light trucks—a move that will, as the New York Times writes, “eliminate billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions and double the fuel efficiency of the American light-duty transportation fleet over the next decade.” That endangerment finding could also lead to greater regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. In addition, Jackson’s EPA set standards for mercury emissions from power plants.
Still, Jackson did not receive support from President Obama for initiatives such as an ozone pollution standard that was deemed by the president to be too costly to industry in a time of economic hardship. And under a Republic-controlled house beginning in 2010, Jackson was a frequent target of Republican inquiry and outrage, and has been the focus, most recently, of speculation regarding a secondary email account under the name “Richard Windsor” that she used in her official capacity. Dual email accounts are standard at the agency, since the official addresses receive a huge volume of email (Lisa Jackson’s received 1.5 million in fiscal year 2012 according to the EPA). But the fictitious name (taken from a family dog and former residence in East Windsor Township, NJ) has led to accusations of secrecy and has launched an official inquiry.
As the first African-American EPA Administrator, and one leading the agency in a time of intense partisan politics, Jackson has been operating under particular pressure, and environmentalists looking for larger regulations have not always been supportive. An article on Grist about her resignation notes that: “ no one who is conscious of the climate crisis can fail to see the last four years as, fundamentally, a failure where it most counts — a critical, fleeting, now-missed chance to jam open a closing window of opportunity and alter our global-warming course.” Of course without the backing of the President, and scant political will in Congress, there was little Jackson could do to advance such initiatives on her own.
Jackson said in a brief interview with the Times that she considers the endangerment finding a high point of her career, marking the first time the federal government has taken steps to address climate change. She also noted that she has expanded the environmental conversation to include under-represented groups, from native Americans to minorities. “Before me,” she said, “some people said that African-Americans don’t care about the environment. I don’t think that will ever be the case again.”