New Jersey greens are dramatically divided over the nomination of Lisa Jackson, the head of that states Department of Environmental Protection, to head Barack Obamas EPA. The critics, some from within her own state agency, say that her enforcement of toxic waste enforcement has been weak at best. Her supporters say shes a strong administrator, and any problems are the result of a development-minded governor who refuses to fund environmental programs.
Her opponents dont think the excuses add up. "She has done a poor job at DEP, consistently taking a very lax approach to cleaning up toxic sites," says Robert Spiegel, executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association, which works to clean up some 70 hazardous sites locally and through the state of New Jersey.
"I had an opportunity to work relatively closely with her, both during her tenure at the New Jersey DEP and in her previous job as a section chief at the EPA," Spiegel said. "Eighteen months ago, after skyrocketing levels of carcinogenic chemicals were found to be draining into the Raritan River, our organization had to sue the multinational corporations responsible. We had to take them to federal court because the New Jersey DEP under Lisa Jackson would not take action." He said that the chemicals are still being emitted, and that the DEP failed to post signs warning families not to fish or crab in that location.
In a letter to Obama, Spiegel wrote, "One bad idea she promoted was the permit extension act, which was actually opposed by the Bush Administrations EPA because it would be inconsistent and less protective than federal environmental laws."
Agreeing with Spiegel is Zoey Kelman, a supervisory-level engineer at New Jersey DEP for almost 20 years before leaving last August. "I could no longer work under those conditions," she said. "Jackson dismantled the science and research divisions and pushed through the privatization of our state remediation program, delegating our responsibilities to outside consultants."
Kelman said she was "sad" when she heard that Jackson was Obama's pick for the EPA. "This has shaken my confidence in him," she said.
But Jackson's supporters are just as outspoken as her critics. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that the negative information about Jackson is coming from a "small number of people, many of them from outside New Jersey, and much of their information is factually wrong."
Tittel agrees that New Jersey's toxic waste site remediation program is "broken," but he blames former Republican Governor Christie Whitman (who became Bush's first EPA chief). "In 1994, she took an ax and eliminated a third of the people who worked in that division and cut their hours by 16 percent," Tittel said. "She let polluters pick their own cleanup plans. In 1994 there were 270 people in the division and 12,000 sites; now there are 150 people and 20,000 sites. Thats what Lisa Jackson inherited."
That problem is further exacerbated by a hiring freeze put under place by Governor Jon Corzine, said Tittel. "Jackson's hands have been tied by a governor who won't fund toxic waste cleanup, who just wants to push development."
Also praising Jackson is Environment New Jersey's Dena Mottola Jaborska. As originally reported in Environment and Energy News, she is a "a skilled administrator who's willing to listen" and the "best DEP commissioner that New Jersey had for a long time." The DEP, she said, "has suffered from a slate of budget cuts by Democratic and Republican governors alike, and thousands of staff positions have been lost over the years."
Corzine himself seemed to be acknowledging the budget cut issue in his own comments about Jackson. The governor said she is "without question in my mind, someone who has overwhelmingly been successful as an environmentalist, but also she has also been a person who understands that we have to move in a disciplined, thoughtful manner. We cant do everything at once."
Jackson definitely has a strong record in some areas. According to the New York Times, "During her 33 months in that job, the state began conducting compliance sweeps to crack down on polluters in environmentally ravaged sections of Camden and Paterson, ended its controversial bear hunt and unveiled a plan to reduce carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050."
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