The Protector

EPA head Lisa Jackson�s mission: to guard human health and the environment while creating jobs for the new green economy

The Obama administration has earmarked more than $80 billion of stimulus funding for energy and environmental programs. How closely are you working with the Department of Labor to implement those programs in states and cities?
We consider ourselves part of the engine that Labor will need to really make that green economy take hold. The president continually says that the way out of our current economic crisis is the green economy. So when EPA is requiring air pollution controls, there are lots of jobs in the air pollution control industry; and when EPA requires a water plant to upgrade or someone to take action to clean up water, those are all green jobs. When we cut diesel pollution by retrofitting a bus or a garbage truck, those are green jobs. When we ask someone to clean up a Superfund site [land that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to people or the environment] and turn a barren area into an economic engine for a community, all those jobs are potential green jobs. The president has also stressed that these are jobs that can’t be outsourced.

We had $100 million through the Recovery Act for our brownfields [land that is abandoned, idled, or underused; less of an environmental threat, brownfields represent an economic threat since they hinder development and stifle local economies] program to clean up former industrial and commercial sites. The brownfields 2011 proposed budget includes an increase of $215 million that will be used for planning, cleanup, redevelopment, and job training.  Our brownfields job training program prepares workers for jobs in the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields properties, including abandoned corner gas stations, old textile mills, closed smelters, and abandoned industrial and commercial properties. These investments target underserved and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, places where environmental cleanups and new jobs are most needed. The brownfields job training program has trained 5,000 people, and more than half have already been placed in full-time employment in the environmental field with an average starting hourly wage of more than $14.

As EPA’s first black administrator, do you feel it’s important for African Americans to get involved with the environment and embrace the clean energy future?
We, for too long, falsely believed that the environment is something out there that we didn’t need to worry about too much. The environmental justice movement should be credited for making it clear that anything that affects the environment tends to impact people of color and certainly low-income people more. For decades, in our country, factories were located near our communities and it was very different. People should not have to make a choice between a job and the health of their families. I think you can have both. Whatever is coming out of the smokestack or the pipes, whatever ends up on the land, shouldn’t threaten their community.

If you’re not thinking about energy as a solution, we’re going to miss a huge opportunity. The president is calling on Americans to embrace a completely different future. It will be a new economy, and the best thing about a new economy is that it wipes the board clean and allows us an opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

How do you plan to attract and encourage small business owners?  What type of financial or tax incentives will be offered?

The Recovery Act includes grants, loans, and tax credits in the clean energy and renewable energy fields. Here at EPA we have a strong small business program. EPA is a place that actually grows business opportunities. We have a home for minority concerns, whether it’s contracting, training, or other issues. Of the approximately $325 million in Recovery Act money obligated under EPA contracts to date, about $103 million has gone to minority-owned firms, many of which are small businesses. To reach our office of small business programs, call 202-566-2075, or visit our Website,, and click on Direct Team.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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  • Ric Weide

    Ms Jackson,
    Based on the insane restrictions of the EPA and several other agencies, I feel you will drive us back to the middle ages with the lack of common sense. I do realize there needs to be sensible habits and better management of resources, but your agency has gone too far and will destroy many very helpful enterprises.
    Now you are favoring what you call black organizations.
    I believe this is is racially motivated and is an affront to the Constitution.
    Please stop it!

  • Mary Ann

    Ms. Jackson, Thanks for your insights. Every American should have safe drinking water and clean air. I appreciate the leadership of the current EPA on these two issues. I disagree with the prevoius commentor Ric Weide who seems to be saying the profits of some businesses should be taking priority over the clean environment for millions of Americans, To advance, Ameica needs to develop alternative sources of clean energy. I hope African Americans, as well as all Americans, can participate in the development of this future, in every capacity.

    • Ric Weide

      Mary Ann,
      The environment is very important to all of us, but when you consider that you will have a very sterile environment to the detriment of people starving due to not having jobs and earning wages to feed their families, you have put the wrong priorities on things.
      We need to place the proper balance on all of it, and not play the politics in placing clean air over no industry.
      Common sense far exceeds politics. Lets make that deal!

  • Im Jackson all the way from Ghana exited to hear such good new from the EPA ..I really enjoyed the article…The kids need your help from the leaders and I hope your Government and the country ‘ll do their best to make our future leaders get some benefit ..

  • BJ Francis, Jr.

    Ms. Jackson, I was in DC for the 2010 AWWA Fly-In to Washington. I was able to read the article at the airport during my departure. I wish I had read your article earlier as I could have tried to arrange a meeting with you while I was there (if you had time of course). I know that you have a very difficult road ahead of you, but I trust that you will lead and guide with the dignity, professionalism and entigrity that prompted the offer and acceptance of your position. I would like to schedule time to visit with you to discuss ways that I can be of a benefit to you (I am not asking for anything, as I am only offering my services to you). I work in the water industry and I am a member of AWWA (Board member for the South West Section). You can contact me by email or by facebook. I appreciate all the hard work that you are investing into keeping all of our natural resources safe today and tomorrow. That is why I am willing to assist you. Every little bit helps. I look forward to your response. Thank you for doing such a fine job thus far. I have the utmost respect for you and the challenges you have faced, are facing, and will face in the future. This is another reason why I am willing to assist you in any way I can.