But Jackson has also watched as the faltering economy and a partisan civil war in Congress have placed environmental issues on a low-simmering back burner -- and placed EPA itself in the crosshairs of an increasingly radical conservative movement that aims to defang, defund, and ultimately destroy it. Even if it dodges that bullet, her EPA must use the narrow statutory authority of a handful of increasingly outdated laws to tackle an endlessly multiplying set of problems. Meanwhile, new laws are out of reach, and old-fashioned regulations get held hostage to competing agendas: Her agency's proposal to tighten ozone standards met sudden death at the hands of the White House that had appointed her.
Jackson has stuck to her post, despite rumors that she might resign in the wake of that ozone reversal. At the end of last week, she visited Seattle to drop in on Boeing, speak at the annual Climate Solutions breakfast, and deliver a commencement address at the University of Washington. She also took time to talk informally at an event with Grist supporters, and sat down with us for an interview.
We knew there was little chance that Jackson would go off message or make unscripted news, and we weren't going to play gotcha with her. But we did get some intriguing glimpses of the mind of the woman who's still trying to push the Obama administration's hope wagon over all those bumps.
Right now U.S. fossil fuel production is ramping up, and a lot of people are enthusiastic about energy independence and jobs in that industry. So national security and employment are set up to be at odds with the environment. Can we get beyond that?
Jackson: First of all there's two sides of the energy discussion: there's production, and there's also use. America as a consumer-oriented country is seeing real choices for the first time in using less energy. That's very good for the American pocketbook. There's simply no reason why American cars can't be efficient and still be cool and be a part of what drives our economy. And if you want proof of that, look at what's happening right now in Detroit. I have conversations all the time with young people, and they're not feeling like they're losing anything by the fact that they'll be able to have choices and much more fuel-efficient cars should they choose to buy them.
The president talks about "all of the above" energy, and I think we don't realize enough how important that is. There are those who would like us to drop everything and say, time for another, a second fossil fuel boom, and the president is saying, but the future for our country is around clean energy, renewables, and getting that technology perfected and ready at a commercial scale here so we can sell it abroad. That will make our country stronger and create jobs as well. We should not put all our eggs in any one basket. And we should not, just because we have it, assume that means we should use fuels as though we have it -- because energy independence requires a certain reduced demand. We saw reduction in demand for gasoline, refined oil, this year, and part of the reason is that Americans have a choice to buy cars and trucks that use less of it. And that's good for our economy. So the money can go somewhere else.