Politics & Policy

Goodbye, Lisa Jackson

Having woven her expensive web, the EPA’s director exits stage left.

Sometimes, “good riddance” just doesn’t suffice. It is hard to imagine a bureaucrat who has done more comprehensive damage to American interests than Lisa Jackson, the departing head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

During her four years as administrator, Jackson has put her radical environmental agenda before the wellbeing of the U.S. economy, the integrity of science, and even the structure of the American political system itself.

Start with her regulatory record. Since January 2009, Jackson’s EPA has issued 20 “major” regulations — defined as rules with an economic cost of $100 million or more each year. Incidentally, that $100-million standard looks like a low-ball upon examining many of the Jackson EPA’s own economic-impact statements. These 20 rules carry a total initial cost of $7 billion, a painful capital expenditure demanded of businesses that aspire to meet compliance standards.

And that’s just for starters. These 20 major regulations carry an annual compliance cost of $44.86 billion — that’s right, each and every year. It would be one thing if businesses, shareholders, and consumers paid that $44.86 billion each year in taxes, which would still hurt but at least make a dent in the deficit. But these costs aren’t even taxes. They’re $44.86 billion in sheer waste; money that would otherwise be used productively in the U.S. economy.

In actuality, the direct economic cost of the EPA’s aggressive regulation is considerably higher, but because the agency doesn’t calculate the cost of non-major rules it’s hard to put a number on it. During her first ten months in office, Jackson had already pushed through more EPA rules and regulations than were implemented under Bill Clinton’s entire first term, and Clinton was elected soon after “the EPA had just been handed broad new powers under the 1990 revamp of air pollution laws,” the Wall Street Journal has pointed out.

Under Jackson’s leadership, the EPA has issued a whopping 1,824 regulations, according to a count by Diane Katz, a research fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation. In comparison, the Department of Energy issued 83; the Department of Labor, 76; and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, 51. Furthermore, more than two dozen additional EPA rules are pending review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and some are already designated as major, Katz says.  

“[Jackson’s] legacy is much like the regulatory legacy of the administration in general, which is hyper-regulatory,” according to Katz.

Jackson’s prolific rulemaking has taken a toll on employment. Seven EPA rules targeted at electricity producers will cost 1.5 million jobs in the next four years alone, according to a report published in October 2012 by the National Economic Research Associates and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. And, seeking to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles, Jackson issued a 2010 rule that carries an annual $10.4 billion cost and destroyed around 50,000 auto-industry jobs, according to an estimate by the Institute for Energy Research. These are just two examples of many.

These rules also drive up on costs on everything from cars to power to consumer goods, and at a time when Americans are cash-starved; as of December, 7.8 percent of Americans were unemployed, and an additional 17.1 percent were underemployed.

Given Jackson’s assault across the productive elements of the economy, it’s a wonder things aren’t worse. They could quite easily have been. Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, argues that there have been mitigating factors. 

“[Jackson] has been very lucky that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas increased simultaneously with EPA greenhouse-gas diktats,” he tells National Review Online. “As a result, there’s little effect of her anti-coal jihad on electricity costs, for now.” 

Not that this has stopped Jackson from trying to regulate fracking, too. In fact, it provides a classic example of how the EPA, under her leadership, has misused, manipulated, or outright ignored science.

In December 2011, Jackson’s EPA released a preliminary report from Pavillion, Wyo., claiming that fracking was contaminating ground water. It would have been an unprecedented conclusion, perhaps even creating the momentum for Congress to allow the EPA to regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

If that sounds like a powerful political motivation to find contamination, it was — never mind that the EPA’s actual science was questionable. The EPA based its entire preliminary conclusion on a mere four samples, too few to effectively test a hypothesis. Different labs reported different findings based on the same samples, and one lab botched the tests so badly that it found contamination even on the blank, clean samples intended for comparison. And even if there was contamination, it was quite possibly from the EPA itself. The EPA had drilled its two test wells using dense soda ash, which is also used to manufacture products such as detergent. And the equipment the EPA used to collect the samples was chemically treated and could easily have contaminated the samples.

The EPA’s report was, at best, sloppy, and at worst, willfully deceptive. After the Wyoming governor and others objected to the EPA’s methods, the agency agreed to retest its samples. The U.S. Geological Survey also did its own tests in Pavillion — and refused to use one of the EPA’s wells because it was so problematic. No surprise: The USGS findings were very different, but that hasn’t stopped the EPA from claiming findings were “generally consistent.” Nevertheless, the Pavillion fight is ongoing, and the EPA’s revised study is up for public comment until January 15.

That’s not the only time the EPA has come under fire for shoddy scientific methods during Jackson’s tenure. In 2009, Jackson classified carbon dioxide as a dangerous pollutant. Cato’s Michaels did a comprehensive, page-by-page fact check of the EPA study underpinning the carbon dioxide decision and found numerous flaws.

Michaels was previously the president of the American Association of State Climatologists, as well as American Meteorological Society’s program chair for the Committee on Applied Climatology — in other words, he knows what he’s talking about. He tells National Review that “the Endangerment Finding from carbon dioxide is based upon a terribly flawed document on climate change in the United States. In my opinion, it is based upon the worst summary of climate research ever produced by federal researchers.”

Jackson’s EPA has a long history of putting politics before science. But Jackson also has a consistent record of pursuing her extremist environmental agenda without much consideration for the U.S. political system.

The carbon dioxide ruling is the perfect example. By classifying CO2 as a pollutant (even though it’s naturally a part of the atmosphere), Jackson was able to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act, cutting Congress out of the regulatory process. Notably, Democratic representative John Dingell, who had a hand in drafting both the 1970 Clean Air Act and its later revision, has publicly and repeatedly stated that the legislation was never intended for such a purpose. But the emissions measures Jackson sought were draconian, affecting even small schools, hospitals, and restaurants. Such policies would stand little chance in Congress — so Jackson decided to leave pesky elected officials out of the equation altogether.

And when Jackson had her way with the Clean Air Act, she also tried to usurp state power. Ignoring the implementation deadlines in the Clean Air Act, she decided to impose her own arbitrary ones on state governments, despite vociferous complaints.

The Clean Air Act is only one instance of Jackson’s willful disregard for American democracy. She began an unprecedented effort to clamp down on six traditionally defined “pollutants,” imposing new measuring methods that wholly ignored decades of precedent derived from federal court rulings. If she’s willing to ignore the legislative branch, why not the judicial one, too?

Jackson didn’t neglect abuse of the executive branch, either, completing a trifecta of disrespect toward the American system of government. Her fuel-economy standards were drafted in the language of the Meades and the Persians, enduring long after not only her tenure but also the president’s. Furthermore, her bureaucratic regulations on the electrical industry ignored the usual process, giving the public less than half the usual time for comment on the proposed rules.

The real problem lies in Jackson’s environmental goals, which have been radical from the start. She isn’t quite unprincipled — on the contrary, her commitment to greenness at all costs seems fervently devout. But her pursuit of these ideals ignores all other considerations — economic, scientific, and political

If Lisa Jackson had done her work as an elected official, she would have had one term in office. The policies she sought simply harm too many people and yield too few benefits. Unfortunately for the U.S. economy, she is instead an unelected bureaucrat, and a tremendously energetic one at that. Her record speaks for itself — since the American people weren’t given much of a chance to.

Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. 


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