July 15, 2024

E.P.A. Chief Stands Firm as Tough Rules Loom

She is working under intense pressure from opponents in Congress, from powerful industries, from impatient environmentalists and from the Supreme Court, which just affirmed the agency’s duty to address global warming emissions, a project that carries profound economic implications.

The new rules will roll out just as President Obama’s re-election campaign is getting under way, with a White House highly sensitive to the probability of political damage from a flood of government mandates that will strike particularly hard at the manufacturing sector in states crucial to the 2012 election.

No other cabinet officer is in as lonely or uncomfortable a position as Ms. Jackson, who has been left, as one adviser put it, behind enemy lines with only science, the law and a small band of loyal lieutenants to support her.

Ms. Jackson describes the job as draining but says there are certain principles she will not compromise, including rapid and vigorous enforcement of some of the most far-reaching health-related rules ever considered by the agency.

“The only thing worse than no E.P.A. is an E.P.A. that exists and doesn’t do its job — it becomes just a placebo,” she said last week in an hourlong interview in Houston. “We are doing our job.”

Although she has not met with the president privately since February, Ms. Jackson said she was confident that he would back her on the tough decisions she had to make. “All of us are mindful that he has a lot of things to do,” she said.

Attacks on her and her agency have become a central part of the Republican playbook, but she said she wanted no sympathy.

“Any E.P.A. director sits at the intersection of some very important issues — air pollution, clean water, and whether businesses can survive,” said Ms. Jackson, a chemical engineer trained at Tulane and Princeton Universities and a former director of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “No one knows this job unless they’ve sat in the seat.”

Ms. Jackson said she intended to go forward with new, tougher air- and water-quality rules, including those that address climate change, despite Congressional efforts to override her authority and even a White House initiative to weed out overly burdensome regulations.

The first of these new rules is expected to be announced Thursday, imposing tighter restrictions on soot and smog emissions from coal-burning power plants in 31 states east of the Rockies. The regulation is expected to lead to the closing of several older plants and will require the installation of scrubbers at many of those that remain in operation. One former E.P.A. administrator, William K. Reilly, who served under the first President George Bush, is a sometime adviser to Ms. Jackson. He said she was taking fire from all sides.

“She’s got three very large challenges,” Mr. Reilly said. “First, she’s got to administer the Clean Air Act to try to accomplish something for which it was never designed, the control of carbon dioxide, a difficult regulatory challenge in itself. Second, she has to do that and cope with all these other regulations which are not of her making and have come to land on her desk in a climate of intense political polarization and economic distress.”

“And the third challenge,” he continued, “is that the White House — any White House — doesn’t want to hear an awful lot from the E.P.A. It’s not an agency that ever makes friends for a president. In the cabinet room, many of the secretaries got along with each other, but they all had an argument with me. It’s the nature of the job.”

Mr. Reilly said the White House had left Ms. Jackson out on a limb when it failed to push hard for the cap-and-trade climate change bill that passed the House in 2009 but stalled in the Senate last year. Administration officials had argued that legislation was far superior to agency regulation as a means of addressing climate-altering emissions. But when the bill ran up against bipartisan opposition in the Senate, Mr. Reilly said, “the White House didn’t lift a finger,” an assertion administration officials dispute.

The White House said that it fully supported the agency’s aggressive standards for a variety of pollutants to protect public health and the environment and denied that it was resisting further regulatory action for political reasons.

“It’s simply a matter of choosing the health and safety of the American people over polluters,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement, “and doing so in a common-sense way that allows us to protect public health while also growing the economy — which will continue to be a shared goal of this entire administration.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4845a8b47e2c7c28ede7a1422303840f

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