Lisa Jackson

EPA allows experts to comment on oil spill; this looks like progress

We believe in giving credit where credit is due. And so after our recent outrage about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's news conferences where reporters were forbidden to identify government officials who briefed journalists, we today were pleasantly surprised by an EPA news conference that's back in the real world.

Specifically, when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson did a phone-in presser on the use of dispersants at BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the notice specifically listed the names and titles of lower-ranking EPA staffers who would appear and provide information to the public: Paul Anasta, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Research and Development; and Dana Tulis, acting director of EPA's Office of Emergency Management. Jane Lubchenco, the Department of Commerce undersecretary in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also was on the call, along with Dave Westerholm, director of NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration.

Thank you, EPA! This is as it should be: Public officials appear at a news conference tell the journalists what they know (and who they are). Then, that information gets transmitted to the public.

Public officials who make statements to the public need to be held accountable for what they say, which can't happen when they journalists don't even know their names, as happened at the press conference last week on EPA's new rules for handling toxic coal ash. This was highlighted in an excellent story about the whole flap by Curtis Brainerd of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Let's hope today's news conference is the start of a trend.

-- Robert McClure

Obama's supposed transparency again belied by hush-hush press conference rules at EPA

Osha Gray Davidson's post on the Society of Environmental Journalists' listserv was at least one funny thing that could be written about the very unfunny way U.S. Environmental Protection Agency squelched open and honest communication with the public today:

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of  openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”
 

-- Senior administration official.

The quote, of course, is from President Obama, who issued the seemingly sweeping statement of support for government transparency shortly after taking office. As we've pointed out before, though, at least one agency is clearly failing to live up to this mandate: The U.S. EPA.

Today the agency, for the second time in three months, held a news conference on a major announcement and ordered reporters not to reveal the names of EPA officials addressing the public through the news media.

What is the meaning of this? Who are they afraid of?

The first incident happened when U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson held a news conference upon the release of the Obama administration's proposed annual budget in early February. Reporters who phoned in, their phones on mute so they could not object, were told that any EPA assistant administrators or others who spoke were "on background," meaning reporters were free to quote these officials, but not to identify them.Journalists were told if they stayed on the call or at the news conference they were agreeing to these rules. Is this what democracy looks like?

Obama's people make the case that fighting climate change = jobs

Our good friends at grist.org commissioned this story today. Hope you like it:

By Robert McClure

SEATTLE—You could tell by the way Obama administration officials pep-talked a roomful of clean-energy businesspeople today that the White House realizes it hasn’t convinced Americans that “tackling climate change = ending the recession.”

rm iwest mugAgain and again EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Undersecretary Kristina Johnson pounded on the jobs issue at a pre-Copenhagen climate talks event designed to showcase how energy efficiency, the smart grid and renewable energy can boost employment rates.

“We’re hearing a whole host of reasons today to support American clean energy. There are national security reasons. There are environmental reasons, and there are public-health reasons,” Jackson said. “But perhaps the most compelling reason at this moment and in this place is the economy.”

The very setting of the clean energy forum fairly screamed “JOBS!” It was a nearly-finished “innovation center” that is leasing space for startups, built by McKinstry Co. beside the firm’s south Seattle offices. McKinstry is all about energy efficiency in buildings (which is where something like a third to two-fifths of our energy use occurs, depending on how you’re counting).

And, get this: Even as the recession roared ahead into high gear earlier this year, McKinstry announced plans to hire 500 people.

That can happen more, Jackson said.

EPA to redouble Clean Water Act enforcement

You wouldn't guess it from a late-Friday Google News search, but in my book, this qualifies as big news: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promised today to redouble its efforts to  enforce the Clean Water Act.

The EPA's announcement today comes in reaction to an excellent New York Times series that we've paid homage to before, and which documented how polluters have systematically violated the Clean Water Act for decades, often with little or no retribution.

What's really significant is that agency is promising to go after some of the most prolific sources of stormwater, including city streets and feedlots.  We've been harping on this topic for years now, and it's great to get the heft of the NYT into the picture. The paper reports EPA is likely to go after "mining companies, large livestock farms, municipal wastewater treatment plants and construction companies that operate sites where polluted stormwater has run into nearby lakes and rivers." About time.

Here's what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had to say in the agency's press release:

Updating our efforts under the Clean Water Act will promote innovative solutions for 21st century water challenges, build stronger ties between EPA, state, and local actions, and provide the transparency the public rightfully expects.

It should be pointed out that reporters had documented parts of this story before the Times. Yours truly, along with Lisa Stiffler, Lise Olsen and others at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, did that in the Puget Sound region earlier this decade.

EPA will go after climate change polluters through Clean Air Act

 

[caption id="attachment_4612" align="alignleft" width="100" caption="EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson"]EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson[/caption]

In an effort to goose Congress into moving on climate-change legislation, the Obama administration this afternoon announced it would use the Clean Air Act to crack down on coal-fired power plants, refineries and other big producers of greenhouse gases.

I just got off a telepresser with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson. She repeatedly emphasized that President Obama sees this as part and parcel of his plan to rescue the economy with a green-jobs program:

We will not have a solution that doesn' to work for the economy.

She held the press conference after making a speech in Los Angeles, citing California's green-energy jobs:

Gov. Schwarzenegger just said the clean energy econony has grown at 10 times the rate of other jobs (in California.) This state is actually an example of what innovation in the clean energy economy can bring. ... We believe this will actually be a jobs revolution.

The idea of using the Clean Air Act to require greenhouse gas polluters to use the "best available control technology" is far from new. The Bush administration lost a court case that set this all up, but Obama's held back on pushing forward for several reasons.

One is that the Clean Air Act really wasn't designed to deal with greenhouse gases. Jackson put on her game face today and said the moves the agency is proposing are just like all the other times it has used the Clean Air Act to regulate pollutants.

But she also repeatedly said she and the president want Congress to act.

Will EPA head see through her promise of more transparency?

[caption id="attachment_1442" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="EPA head Lisa Jackson"]EPA head Lisa Jackson[/caption]

If you've been watching the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as long as I have, you have to be hopeful when you hear Administrator Lisa Jackson saying she's going to increase transparency at the agency. And it's good news that she seems to be hinting that the agency will be taking on a stronger role in regulating stormwater, our most widespread form of water pollution.

Jackson's initiative, detailed in a piece by the pro-transparency group OMBWatch, is based on a July 2 memo from Jackson to agency employees regarding how they handle their duties under the Clean Water Act. OMBWatch notes:

The new memo from Jackson only addresses enforcement of and compliance with one statute, the Clean Water Act. No such memo or other instructions have been released regarding transparency in the enforcement of the numerous other environmental statutes under EPA's jurisdiction.  ...

 The memo continues an emerging trend at EPA of greater transparency – at least rhetorically. Shortly after her confirmation as head of EPA, Jackson released a memo to all employees calling for greater transparency, followed by a memo emphasizing a restoration of scientific integrity.

Will this lead to actual transparency? That's one we'll have to watch and see about. For instance, will Jackson order that responses to all Freedom of Information Act requests, once fullfilled, be posted online for all to see?