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Political Physics: Lisa Jackson – An Unusual Suspect


A blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Obama was being criticized because of his Cabinet picks.  In US News & World Report, Bonnie Erbe stated that women who voted for Obama were “destined for disappointment” the two female top choices for Obama cabinet positions, Penny Pritzker at Commerce and Janet Napolitano at Justice, did not indicated any progress for women given that both positions had been held by women in the past.  And other critics were up in arms about a perceived lack of diversity among the selected candidates and the rumored contenders.

Today I’d hope that at least some of those critics have admitted their concerns were unwarranted.  Thus far, Obama’s choices have been as balanced as I think someone in his position could be – mix of ethnicities, gender and political affiliation.  But I do not want to debate all of the different picks today; I just want to applaud him for one particular choice – Lisa Jackson as his nominee for Commission of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lisa Jackson, currently Chief of Staff for New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, is Obama’s Choice to lead the Department of Environmental Protection.  Lisa Jackson is also the real deal.  Should she be confirmed Lisa would be the first African American woman to head the EPA.  Now I know what you’re thinking, the last time a NJ woman headed up the EPA was not a shining moment (former Governor Christine Todd Whitman headed the EPA for 2 ½ years during President George W. Bush’s first term).  First, we apologize for Governor Whitman and second, there is a key difference between Lisa and Christie – Lisa actually has the experience and knowledge to successfully lead the EPA.

Lisa, a Princeton University-educated chemical engineer, is co-chair of Obama’s EPA Transition Team.  She spent 16 years at the EPA in Washington and in New York before being hired at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2002.  She was named the Commissioner of the department in 2006 by Governor Corzine, overseeing environmental regulation in a state plagued by pollution problems and home to the most hazardous waste sites in the country.  During her short tenure, NJ 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.

Critics, however, argue that Jackson does not have the experience to lead the EPA.

The Associated Press reported that a small but vocal contingent of environmental advocacy groups came out against Jackson last week, asking President-elect Barack Obama to drop her as a candidate.  In a letter to the transition team, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a group that represents “environmentally-minded” state and federal employees, said it was “distressed” that Jackson was under consideration.  “The group argued that, “her record at the Department of Environmental Protection did not warrant a promotion.”

However, environmental advocates in NJ are thrilled with the nomination.  In an interview last week, the head of NJ Sierra Club, Executive Director Jeff Tittel, was asked what he thought about Lisa’s rumored nomination.  He said, “Lisa is poised to be a great administrator. Her experience, her background in science and her pragmatism give me confidence that she is up to the task of cleaning up toxic waste sites, making polluters pay and securing our environment for future generations. Together with the rest of President-elect Obama’s green dream team, she will help bring the change we need from what has been simply disastrous environmental policy under the Bush administration.”

Lisa, a staunch Clinton supporter during the primaries, is definitely not one of the usual suspects.  But her experience and background make her an excellent choice to lead the EPA.

Last month, Governor Corzine appointed Lisa Jackson as his new Chief of Staff.  She started on December 1st and then four days later rumors were abounding that she was on her way to DC.  I was really bummed out because I was looking forward to working with Lisa in my professional capacity.  But NJ’s loss is definitely Obama’s gain!