After four years on the job, Lisa P. Jackson recently stepped down as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As the first African-American to hold that position, she worked diligently to protect our air, land and water. In the current issue of JET featuring Fantasia [Mar. 18, 2013 issue, pg 20] we speak with the trailblazer to find out what hopes she has for the planet’s future. Here’s an extended discussion with Ms. Jackson.
What can we do to help reduce pollution?
There are plenty of everyday steps Americans can take. Unplugging electronics you aren’t using, walking or taking public transportation to work, buying energy efficient products that are Energy Star certified— all of these habits will not only help control pollution, but help save you money on energy costs.
How will global warming affect future generations?
The overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that, with global warming, the extreme weather we have seen recently will become more and more frequent. That means warmer temperatures, more droughts, and an increase in hurricanes and other natural disasters. With strong action, we can help curb these effects and ensure poor and minority communities don’t experience the disproportionate economic, health and environmental challenges they create.
Since Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact in 2005, what progress has been made in New Orleans?
I grew up in the lower Ninth Ward, and I’ve made several trips to New Orleans during my tenure as EPA Administrator. I’ve been struck by the progress that’s been made there. There is a lot of work left to do, but people are using hybrid buses, installing solar panels, and building energy efficient homes, and I think it’s a real testament to the steps communities like the Ninth Ward can take across the country to create a more sustainable future.
What role did you play in the environmental cleanup?
As the head of President Obama’s Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, I worked with colleagues from the five Gulf States, including Louisiana, and 11 federal agencies to tackle the long-term challenges of the Gulf Coast. The Task Force held meetings in every one of the Gulf States and identified a strategy to facilitate long-term restoration of the region. One of the key components of this strategy was restoring and conserving habitats, like wetlands.
Was there anything we could have done to avoid the tragedy?
One of the reasons the Ninth Ward was so badly damaged by floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina was because of the amount of wetlands we’ve lost around the gulf. We’re losing our wetlands at the rate of an entire football field every 30 minutes. In fact, since Katrina, EPA has invested more than $95 million in grants to protect and restore our wetlands and marshes. This type of work will be critical to protect gulf and coastal communities, including the Ninth Ward, from future storms.
What’s next on your career path?
I’m not sure. I’m looking forward to relaxing, and spending more time with my family as I consider my options for the future.