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After Admitting Faults at Hearing, New EPA Head Starts Work

Jackson was confirmed despite questions about her failure to regulate contaminants in drinking water and other concerns.

With little scrutiny or controversy, Lisa Jackson was confirmed by the Senate to head the Environmental Protection Agency after a confirmation hearing where criticisms of Jackson's tenure as head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection were given short shrift.

In her first move as EPA chief, Jackson pledged to make science " the backbone for EPA programs." In a memo sent to EPA employees, Jackson said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions, managing chemical risks, cleaning up hazardous waste and protecting America's water would receive her personal attention.

As ProPublica reported, Jackson's approach to virtually all of these goals was criticized when she was head of the New Jersey's environmental department. In the run-up to her confirmation, Jackson's critics accused her of being cozy with industry, failing to act on a three-year-old recommendation to regulate perchlorate in drinking water, and not fulfilling a promise to fix the state's hazardous waste program.

Questions about these aspects of her record were only briefly addressed at her confirmation hearing. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, saved these questions for what she called a "lighting round" that took place in the final minutes of Jackson's confirmation.

During the "lighting round," Jackson for the first time acknowledged there was a delay between her agency's discovery that a day care center was built inside an abandoned thermometer factory contaminated with mercury and her demand that the day care center be shutdown.

Jackson initially claimed in a 2006 press release that as soon as she found out the Kiddie Kollege day care center was contaminated with mercury, " inspectors moved in, took samples and shut it down."

In the hearing, Jackson said that in fact, months passed before her department shut down the day care center because the department waited for mercury test results to come back. "I know that in hindsight we all wish things had turned out differently, and that's really what I would say to the parents," said Jackson.

Next, Jackson defended her record on perchlorate, a chemical in rocket fuel that was found in six out of 123 public drinking water wells in New Jersey. Each well served at least 10,000 people. Studies link perchlorate to thyroid damage that can slow brain development in children.

In October 2005, New Jersey was urged to regulate the chemical by a panel of state scientists, environmental activists and industry leaders. Three years later, the DEP still hasn't completed a draft of the rule.

In the hearing Jackson admitted the standard was late, but assured the Senate her agency was closely monitoring perchlorate levels and the proposed rule should be out by the end of the month.

Two weeks ago the Bush administration's EPA announced it would delay its decision on whether to set a national drinking water standard for perchlorate until it receives advice from the National Academy of Sciences, effectively punting the decision to Jackson.

Boxer asked Jackson if she would "commit to immediately review this failure to establish a drinking water standard for perchlorate and act to address the threat to pregnant women and children caused by this dangerous toxin?"

Jackson promised that she would.

As NJDEP administrator, Jackson also came under fire for her approach toward toxic waste sites scattered throughout New Jersey.

Jackson was accused of failing to prioritize New Jersey's 16,000 sites, a promise she made shortly after she became head of the department in 2006. In the hearing, Jackson said the department's development of the ranking system is "not quite done yet, so it's late, but it's late because it relies on GPS technology, and for the first time ever, site-specific pollution data."

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