Streams

EPA Chief Jackson on Christie, Bedbugs and 40 Years of the EPA

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Tree on Bliss Rd (flickr user jmenard48 (cc:by-sa))

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie caused a stir last month when he expressed doubts about climate change. Asked whether human activity is the reason the planet is getting warmer, Christie said "I would say at this point that has to be proven and I'm a little skeptical about it."

One person who disagrees with that view is Lisa Jackson, President Obama's Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She was also New Jersey's chief environmental official under then-Governor Jon Corzine.

WNYC's Ilya Marritz sat down Wednesday with Lisa Jackson for a talk about the issues facing the nation and the planet today and the 40th anniversary of the EPA's founding. 

He asked Jackson, whether she'd made any effort to turn Governor Christie from climate change skeptic, into a believer.

LJ: I have not spoken to Governor Christie.
IM: Does it concern you that skepticism about climate change seems to be becoming a 
mainstream view in one of our two main political parties?
LJ: Well I think that tehre will be opportunity in the coming year for scientists to have 
the stage. And I think thjat's a really important moment for Americans and for scientists. I 
was at the National Academy of Sciences just yesterday and I think and argued there that we 
should all as scientists be embracing the opportunities whether it's in a hearing or in 
media to talk to the American people about what these emissions are, how we know CO2 is 
building up in our atmosphere, how many scientists - and it's an overwhelming consensus of 
scientists around the world who believe that the buildup of thsoe gases in the atmosphere is 
changing our climate.
IM: If you believe the hype New York City is in the grips of a bedbug epidemic and I know 
that some of the chemicals that were formerly used to treat bedbugs were banned by the EPA a 
decade or so ago. And I know that one city in Ohio had asked for a variance to use some of 
those chemicals again, the EPA rejected that particular claim. As a philosophical matter, is 
it conceivable that the EPA could in some case make some kind of allowance to help cities 
get this problem under control by using chemicals that normally should not be used in homes 
or in movie theaters?
LJ: First let me say that EPA and the scientists at EPA who work on regulation of pesticides 
are very sympathetic to the fact that this is a real problem, a real nuisance. We're lucky - 
bedbugs don't carry disease. But if you have to sleep in a bed and worry about being bitten 
all night, it sort of messes with your mind. And we get that. The problem is, you want to 
make sure you dont' come up with a cure that's actually worse than the disease.
Propoxur, the pesticide that some people have asked to use, is toxic for children. And so to 
think about using that pesticide in and around the bedrooms, the places where children are 
gonna sleep. And it's one application that we'd be weighing this against.
The solution here is something - you know I was talking to my mom the other day and I was 
askin her about bedbugs when it was much more of a problem. It's going to end up being that 
we all have to once again consider bedbugs in our daily hygiene. And think about using other 
pesticides - and there are some that can be used, they just usually require more than one 
treatment.
IM: What would you say is the single biggest achievement of the EPA in the last 40 years, if 
you could tout just one, which I know is probably difficult.
LJ: It's actually impossible. You know, the Aspen Institute just released what they call "10 
Significant Achievements by EPA". And there are some on the list that are surprising and 
some that aren't. It starts with the banning of DDT, which the first administrator did not 
long after EPA was formed, and you might recall DDT was the subject of the book "Silent 
Spring", a lot of the early environmental movement. There's taking the acid out of acid rain 
- making rain rain again. There's cleaner cars, when you think about the fact that there are 
a hundred million more Americans and a lot more drivers than when EPA was formed and a lot 
more cars on the road, and yet air quality has gotten better.
IM: It's been observed that big environmental legislation tends to get passed when 
Republicans are president - the party sometimes seen as less of a friend to the 
environmental movement. I'm thinking of the establishment of the EPA 40 years ago with 
President Richard Nixon, the Safe Drinking Water Act with President Ford, the Oil Pollution 
Control Act in 1990 with the first President Bush. Why do you think that is and can we 
expect big environmental legislation from the Obama Administration?
LJ: I like to say that the environment is really a non-partisan issue. It shouldn't be 
partisan, it shouldn't be politicized. It should be and has always been, any big 
environmental law has been the result of the American people. It's very much a grassroots 
movement. I think the next big piece of legislation may well be toxic chemicals. Because of 
the grassroots fervor and concern amongst parents, amongst mothers, amongst public health 
professionals, about the numebr of toxic chemicals that are showing up in our bodies. Not 
only our bodies. Not only in our bodies but in our children's bodies. Sometimes even before 
they're born.

WNYC: Last month, the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, said that he has doubts that human activities are the cause of global warming. Have you spoken with him about that?

Lisa Jackson: I have not spoken to Governor Christie.

Does it concern you that skepticism about climate change seems to be becoming a mainstream view in one of our two main political parties?

Well, I think that there will be opportunity in the coming year for scientists to have the stage. And I think that's a really important moment for Americans and for scientists. I was at the National Academy of Sciences just yesterday and argued there that we should all as scientists be embracing the opportunities, whether it's in a hearing or in media to talk to the American people about what these emissions are, how we know CO2 is building up in our atmosphere, how many scientists -- and it's an overwhelming consensus of scientists around the world who believe that the buildup of thsoe gases in the atmosphere is changing our climate.

If you believe the hype, New York City is in the grips of a bed bug epidemic and I know that some of the chemicals that were formerly used to treat bed bugs were banned by the EPA a decade or so ago. And I know that one city in Ohio had asked for a variance to use some of those chemicals again, the EPA rejected that particular claim. As a philosophical matter, is it conceivable that the EPA could in some case make some kind of allowance to help cities get this problem under control by using chemicals that normally should not be used in homes or in movie theaters?

First, let me say that EPA and the scientists at EPA who work on regulation of pesticides are very sympathetic to the fact that this is a real problem, a real nuisance. We're lucky -- bed bugs don't carry disease. But if you have to sleep in a bed and worry about being bitten all night, it sort of messes with your mind. And we get that. The problem is, you want to make sure you don't come up with a cure that's actually worse than the disease.

Propoxur, the pesticide that some people have asked to use, is toxic for children. And so to think about using that pesticide in and around the bedrooms, the places where children are gonna sleep. And it's one application that we'd be weighing this against.

The solution here is something -- you know I was talking to my mom the other day and I was asking her about bed bugs when it was much more of a problem. It's going to end up being that we all have to once again consider bed bugs in our daily hygiene. And think about using other pesticides -- and there are some that can be used, they just usually require more than one treatment.

What would you say is the single biggest achievement of the EPA in the last 40 years, if you could tout just one, which I know is probably difficult.

It's actually impossible. You know, the Aspen Institute just released what they call "10 Significant Achievements by EPA". And there are some on the list that are surprising and some that aren't. It starts with the banning of DDT, which the first administrator did not long after EPA was formed, and you might recall DDT was the subject of the book "Silent Spring", a lot of the early environmental movement.

There's taking the acid out of acid rain -- making rain rain again.

There's cleaner cars, when you think about the fact that there are a hundred million more Americans and a lot more drivers than when EPA was formed and a lot more cars on the road, and yet air quality has gotten better.

It's been observed that big environmental legislation tends to get passed when Republicans are president - the party sometimes seen as less of a friend to the environmental movement. I'm thinking of the establishment of the EPA 40 years ago with President Richard Nixon, the Safe Drinking Water Act with President Ford, the Oil Pollution Control Act in 1990 with the first President Bush. Why do you think that is and can we expect big environmental legislation from the Obama Administration?

I like to say that the environment is really a non-partisan issue. It shouldn't be partisan, it shouldn't be politicized. It should be and has always been, any big environmental law has been the result of the American people. It's very much a grassroots movement. I think the next big piece of legislation may well be toxic chemicals. Because of the grassroots fervor and concern amongst parents, amongst mothers, amongst public health professionals, about the numebr of toxic chemicals that are showing up in our bodies. Not only our bodies. Not only in our bodies but in our children's bodies. Sometimes even before they're born.

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