Choosing Lisa Jackson to Head EPA, Obama Goes With Veteran Regulator

The former head of New Jersey's EPA, Jackson has a reputation for pragmatic compromises.

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The approach is controversial. Critics say it will result in shoddy work and give only the appearance of a cleanup. Jackson and her supporters insist that in the absence of necessary funding and staff, they have no other choice if they want the sites to be cleaned up at all.

If nothing else, the dispute does underscore Jackson's efforts to seek compromises on difficult issues. "I think it's fair to say that she does try to find middle ground," says Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. "She knows how the system operates and, from a management standpoint, how the pieces should work together."

Jackson herself has said that she does not want "the perfect" to be "the enemy of the good." Observers credit her with relying on scientific data to guide her decision, even if it leads to unpopular outcomes. One such example: As commissioner, Jackson oversaw an effort to install pollution traps on the tailpipes of public transit vehicles. Some environmentalists pushed her to control emissions from the engine's crankcase as well. She declined, saying that research showed the benefit was minuscule.

"Lisa is not one for doing things for political fanfare-making," Mottola said. "If the research suggests this is not the right thing to do, she'll say this is not the right thing to do. You will not see science buried under Lisa Jackson."

  • Read about how environmental groups are hoping Obama will revitalize the EPA.