Lisa Jackson will step down from her post as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after the presidential inauguration in late January. As a chemical engineer and the first African American to head the EPA, Jackson took the hottest seat in the U.S. government and left a grand legacy.
She drafted regulations to reduce mercury emissions from coal fired plants and completed a comprehensive review of mountaintop removal in states like Kentucky and West Virginia.
She closed permit loopholes along the "cancer coast" in Florida and developed new car emission levels. Jackson gained support from environmentalists and auto industry unions to fend off anti regulatory politicians and business interests. New car and light truck emission levels will double fuel efficiency standards to create jobs while improving the air over the next decade and a half.
Jackson was the first EPA director in three decades to listen to local environmentalists, not just oil and gas industry representatives, when she made trips to Texas. This practice ended almost a decade of one-sided lobbying and rampant deregulation. She listened to many more of America's voices, including low-income communities, Native Alaskans and American Indian tribes.
President Obama was Jackson's biggest booster, but also created roadblocks. At times, the President went overboard with a pro business stance. This meant sacrificing some of the more far-reaching regulation that environmentalists wanted. He shot down a major clean air regulation designed to reduce smog because business claimed that it would threaten job creation.
However, the president also kept his promise to solve some thorny environmental problems. In choosing Lisa Jackson, he gave the nation an administrator who could brawl with the most ethically challenged and belligerent Republican opposition ever.
Jackson convinced the President to hold off plans for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would move more carbon-heavy tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.
She ensured that fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks would double over the next 13 years. The average will gradually rise to 54.5 mpg, up from 28.6 mpg in 2012.
One major setback occurred when the Senate turned down the Cap-and-Trade law that would have forced power companies to pay for the pollution they create. The law would have allowed polluters to buy and sell pollution rights.
In one of her last interviews as EPA Chief, Jackson spoke with journalist John F. Broder. She made this statement for a Dec. 27 article in the New York Times,
“Before me,” she said, “some people said that African-Americans don’t care about the environment. I don’t think that will ever be the case again.”