At Duke, EPA chief defends environmental regulations

jmurawski@newsobserver.comDecember 6, 2011 

The nation's top environmental regulator delivered a blunt message this afternoon to students, professors and others at Duke University: Republicans are bad for the nation's health.

According to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, conservatives and Republicans in Washington are spreading disinformation in a bid to roll back this country's environmental protections and to hobble the agency.

The chief concern among conservatives is that EPA regulations stall economic growth and kill jobs. Jackson said the opposite is true: New regulations provide tens of thousands of jobs to electricians, engineers and steelworkers who retrofit old technology to comply with stricter standards.

The EPA position, she said, is non-partisan and rooted in science: The public health benefits of environmental regulation outweigh its cost. The EPA's critics are peddling the contrary: lies and propaganda, Jackson told about 550 in attendance at the Reynolds Theater in the Bryan University Center.

"Since the beginning of this year, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has orchestrated 170 votes against environmental protection," Jackson said, according to her prepared testimony. "Less than three years after a coal ash spill that covered 300 acres of Tennessee country the House majority passed legislation preventing EPA from regulating coal ash. ... Less than two years after the Deepwater Horizon BP spill, the best idea industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute have for creating jobs is to de-regulate drilling."

Looming in the background of Jackson's fiery speech is a professinal defeat that nearly caused her to resign from the EPA. Amid a huge outcry over alleged EPA overreaching, President Barack Obama recently overrode Jackson and blocked the EPA from adopting stricter standards on ground level ozone, sometimes known as smog. According to a New York Times story about the showdown, Jackson nearly quit her job over the incident.

Jackson's speech at Duke is part of a broader counter-attack by regulators who are facing intense criticism from conservative critics during the nation's worst economic downturn since World War II. The overall theme of these counterclaims is that regulation does not increase social costs, as opponents claim, but rather makes polluters and other industries responsible paying for social costs they had previously passed on to others.

Jackson added that the industries opposing the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act are engaged in a "pseudo jobs plan to protect polluters" at the expense of the public health.

"That is not hyperbole," Jackson's statement said.

A video of the talk and follow-up Q&A will be archived online by tomorrow at:

https://www.nicholas.duke.edu/deanseries.

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