Lisa Jackson, the outgoing administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, visited Silicon Valley this week for a candid conversation about energy, innovation and her often stormy four-year tenure in Washington. Jackson, the first African American to hold the top EPA job, announced Dec. 27 that she is leaving the agency where she has worked, off on an on, for 25 years.
The event, hosted by the Churchill Club at Microsoft’s Mountain View campus, featured former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm interviewing Jackson. (Here’s the link to the video)
Jackson said the EPA has a fundamental job to “protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.” She’s proudest of the “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act was written to include greenhouse gas pollution. The EPA finalized its endangerment finding during Jackson’s tenure, which authorizes it to take reasonable efforts to reduce GHG’s.
“The endangerment finding made pollution actionable,” said Jackson.
The EPA has also nearly doubled the fuel efficiency standard for new cars and light trucks. Jackson said that government plays a key role in establishing national standards; once those standards are set, the private sector often races to exceed them.
“We set the goal and get out of the way,” said Jackson. “Once the rule is set, engineers find a cheaper way to get there. We set a common sense floor, and then let free enterprise take over.”
Jackson reminded the audience that the EPA was started by Republican president Richard Nixon and that cap-and-trade, now underway in California, was a Republican idea. She doesn’t see national cap-and-trade happening anytime soon.
When asked who should replace her, Jackson declined to comment, but gave a strong shout out to her deputy, Bob Perciasepe.
“The agency works for the American people, not a special interest group,” said Jackson, who stressed that the regulatory agency plays a vital role in protecting public health and making environmental progress. “The belief that the work is vital, almost sacred, is really important.”