Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency since shortly after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, is stepping down. Her resignation will take effect after the President’s State of the Union address, which will occur sometime in late January or early February.
Jackson, the first chemical engineer and the first African American to lead EPA, joins a number of high-ranking Obama Administration officials who have announced their departures as the President gears up for his second term in office. Jane Lubchenco will step down as head of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also leave.
During her tenure, Jackson advocated for a number of critical policy changes. Some will have environmental and economic repercussions for years to come.
In 2009, Jackson determined that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are pollutants that threaten public health and welfare and thus need regulation under the Clean Air Act. In addition, she was the first EPA administrator to set out principles for a legislative overhaul of the 1970s-era law that governs the manufacture of commercial chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The chemical industry has mixed views on Jackson’s tenure at EPA.
“Jackson’s EPA will be remembered as one of the least collaborative with industry stakeholders,” says William E. Allmond IV, vice president of government and public relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, a trade group. “The chemical industry has faced increasing and unnecessary regulations under Jackson’s watch in a time when the U.S. economy is struggling to get back on its feet.”
A more tempered opinion comes from the American Chemistry Council, another industry trade association. “Although we did not always agree with Ms. Jackson on regulatory policy or objectives, she has been a committed advocate for health and environmental protection,” the group noted in a statement.
Environmental advocates, state regulators, and Democrats in Congress are generally positive about Jackson’s tenure. In addition to her decision on greenhouse gases, they point to regulations to curb mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants as her key accomplishments.
Jackson did face a big political setback in 2011 when Obama blocked EPA from tightening national air quality standards for ground-level ozone.
President Obama is expected to nominate a new EPA chief in the coming weeks. Potential candidates include current Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe, who has served as Jackson’s second-in-command, and Regina McCarthy, who heads the agency’s air pollution program. Both are career bureaucrats with years of experience as environmental regulators at both the state and federal levels. Another name bandied about is California Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols.
Whomever Obama chooses, the new EPA administrator will oversee controversial matters such as regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities and hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas. The Senate must confirm the President’s nominee.