After receiving the confirmation to head the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, Lisa Jackson was in the spotlight again on Monday when President Barack Obama requested that the EPA reconsider former President George W. Bush’s decision to bar California from setting auto emission standards at an average fuel efficiency of more than 39 miles per gallon by 2020 for passenger cars. Currently, Congress only requires that cars reach 35 MPG by 2020.
“California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership through its effort to forge 21st century standards, and over a dozen states have followed its lead,” said Obama in remarks before press yesterday. “But instead of serving as a partner, Washington stood in their way. This refusal to lead risks the creation of a confusing and patchwork set of standards that hurts the environment and the auto industry.”
Under Bush the EPA blocked California’s initiative to increase standards. As director of the EPA in New Jersey, Jackson joined California in a law suit to toughen emission standards. Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington are also prepared to both increase emissions standards in an effort to relieve America’s dependence on imported oil.
Expectations are high for Jackson, 46, who has degrees in chemical engineering from Tulane and Princeton, but not because she is the first African American to head the EPA. Critics say that enforcing California’s emissions standards would further hurt the economy, since automakers would need to design more fuel efficient cars, which could increase manufacturing costs at a time when cars aren’t even being sold.
“Amidst the array of challenges facing his administration, Obama’s actions today send a clear signal to America and the world that his administration will play a leadership role on energy and global warming,” according to a statement by Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Global Warming Campaign.
Despite her previous support of the California law, it remains to be seen whether Jackson will conform to Obama’s request and allow the interested states to apply more stringent emissions standards. If Jackson consents Obama is placing emissions regulations, which was federally mandated, into the states hands.
Aside from Jackson, Susan Rice was confirmed as the first African American ambassador of the United Nations on Thursday. The confirmation of Eric Holder, the last of Obama’s black, top level cabinet appointees, will be voted on later this week.
Marcia A. Wade is a reporter for BlackEnterprise.com