Regulate, Baby, Regulate

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Stone

EPA chief Lisa Jackson is taking on the president's next big challenge: climate change. Will her hardball tactics persuade Congress to play along?

Washington, D.C., is littered with the careers of bright, well-meaning public servants who came to the capital to do good but fell victim to politics. Lisa Jackson is determined not to become one of them. As head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jackson oversees the quality of America's air and water and monitors pollution levels. It's a job that endears her to green activists (and people who like clean air and water)--but it also puts her at odds with some of the nation's largest, richest industries.

For decades, big manufacturers and commercial farmers, who retain powerful lobbyists and make large contributions to the election campaigns of members of Congress, have pushed back against the EPA's efforts to enact stricter controls on pollution. In the years when George W. Bush was president they often got their way, as the EPA rolled back on enforcement to suit the administration's pro-industry politics.

Some of those industry heads have also been heard in the Obama White House, which last week announced plans to open parts of Alaska and the East Coast to new offshore drilling--a gambit the president hopes will build support for a climate-change bill in Congress. But if that conciliatory approach doesn't work, Obama can count on Jackson as his climate enforcer. Unless Congress acts by next January, Jackson says, the EPA will use its authority under America's Clean Air Act to phase in new restrictions on carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. The U.S. emits nearly a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide; the EPA has identified it and five other greenhouse gases as a threat to public health. "The difference between this administration and the last is that we don't believe we have an option to do nothing," Jackson told NEWSWEEK.

Despite the rage of environmentalists, the drilling decision didn't bother Jackson much. Just weeks before, she admitted that any energy policy "should include offshore drilling" so long as it doesn't harm the environment--a condition that would seem nearly impossible to fulfill. If anything, energy companies unearthing more fossil fuels would only boost the emissions she's aiming to cut, giving her fight more urgency. But that doesn't mean her job will be easy. Three months after announcing her intent, Jackson, a chemical engineer who spent years working within the EPA bureaucracy, is starting to see just how difficult it may be. For starters, the Nixon-era Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate a pollutant as pervasive as carbon. Both environmentalists and industry heads also acknowledge that Congress would be able to address the problem better. "The only thing everyone agrees on is that a regulatory approach would be more extensive and less effective than legislation," says Paul Bledsoe, spokesman for the National Commission on Energy Policy, a Washington think tank. But until Congress takes up the question, Obama holds the only key to sweeping carbon cuts.

Jackson doesn't seem to mind that the job has been deputized to her, yet she knows her agency's credibility--and her own--could be at stake. Already, powerful interests are lining up against the anticipated changes, which she and agency scientists have promised to detail later this year. Industry groups like the American Public Power Association are readying lobbying campaigns to kill or at least slow the impending regulations, and more than 100 agriculture and energy groups have demanded that Jackson back off. "It will create a huge competitive disadvantage to our industry," says Nancy Gravatt, a spokesperson for the American Iron and Steel Institute. "We already filed a legal challenge. The further this gets, the more of that we will be doing. We will continue to contest this. …