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New EPA administrator targets five priorities in memo to agency employees (1/27)

January 27, 2009
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Confirmed last week by the Senate, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson officially took over the agency’s reins yesterday. In a memo to EPA employees issued last Friday, Jackson outlined her top priorities:

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The president has pledged to make responding to the threat of climate change a high priority of his administration. He is confident that we can transition to a low-carbon economy while creating jobs and making the investment we need to emerge from the current recession and create a strong foundation for future growth. I share this vision. EPA will stand ready to help Congress craft strong, science-based climate legislation that fulfills the vision of the president. As Congress does its work, we will move ahead to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision recognizing EPA’s obligation to address climate change under the Clean Air Act.

“Improving air quality. The nation continues to face serious air pollution challenges, with large areas of the country out of attainment with air-quality standards and many communities facing the threat of toxic air pollution. Science shows that people’s health is at stake. We will plug the gaps in our regulatory system as science and the law demand.

“Managing chemical risks. More than 30 years after Congress enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act, it is clear that we are not doing an adequate job of assessing and managing the risks of chemicals in consumer products, the workplace and the environment. It is now time to revise and strengthen EPA’s chemicals management and risk assessment programs.

“Cleaning up hazardous-waste sites. EPA will strive to accelerate the pace of cleanup at the hundreds of contaminated sites across the country. Turning these blighted properties into productive parcels and reducing threats to human health and the environment means jobs and an investment in our land, our communities and our people.

“Protecting America’s water. EPA will intensify our work to restore and protect the quality of the nation’s streams, rivers, lakes, bays, oceans and aquifers. The agency will make robust use of our authority to restore threatened treasures such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, to address our neglected urban rivers, to strengthen drinking-water safety programs, and to reduce pollution from non-point and industrial dischargers.”

Jackson also described three policy values, initially laid out by President Obama, that she said will guide EPA in the next four years:

“Science must be the backbone for EPA programs. The public health and environmental laws that Congress has enacted depend on rigorous adherence to the best available science. The president believes that when EPA addresses scientific issues, it should rely on the expert judgment of the Agency’s career scientists and independent advisors. When scientific judgments are suppressed, misrepresented or distorted by political agendas, Americans can lose faith in their government to provide strong public health and environmental protection.

“EPA must follow the rule of law. The president recognizes that respect for Congressional mandates and judicial decisions is the hallmark of a principled regulatory agency. Under our environmental laws, EPA has room to exercise discretion, and Congress has often looked to EPA to fill in the details of general policies. However, EPA needs to exercise policy discretion in good faith and in keeping with the directives of Congress and the courts. When Congress has been explicit, EPA cannot misinterpret or ignore the language Congress has used. When a court has determined EPA’s responsibilities under our governing statutes, EPA cannot turn a blind eye to the court’s decision or procrastinate in complying.

“EPA’s actions must be transparent. In 1983, EPA Administrator Ruckelshaus promised that EPA would operate ‘in a fishbowl’ and ‘will attempt to communicate with everyone from the environmentalists to those we regulate, and we will do so as openly as possible.’

“I embrace this philosophy. Public trust in the agency demands that we reach out to all stakeholders fairly and impartially, that we consider the views and data presented carefully and objectively, and that we fully disclose the information that forms the bases for our decisions. I pledge that we will carry out the work of the agency in public view so that the door is open to all interested parties and that there is no doubt why we are acting and how we arrived at our decisions. “

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