There's no evidence U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson plans to leave the agency anytime soon, but a group of environmentalists has started a new campaign urging her to stay put despite last week's rebuke from the White House on smog.
A new website, americaneedslisajackson.com, was launched yesterday by the Earth Day Network in an effort to quiet what has become a noisy rumor inside the Beltway since President Obama announced that he was ordering Jackson to scrap her two-year-old plan to tighten the national limit on ozone in the air.
There is rampant speculation among the "chattering classes" on Capitol Hill, the website says, referencing a recent Politico article that questioned whether Jackson would stay. In that article, an anonymous White House official says Obama expects Jackson to remain with the administration, while some greens said they suspected she was on the way out.
Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, said Jackson is needed at EPA because no one else with her environmental science background has President Obama's ear. Rogers said in an interview that the calls for Jackson's resignation have been distracting.
"The chatterers began to talk about it, and that's one of those things that can take on a life of its own," Rogers said.
Jackson has not publicly addressed the rumors, but "she's aware of this groundswell of support, and it's something she appreciates," a source close to the administrator told Greenwire when asked about the new campaign, which includes a petition drive.
And considering the amount of gridlock in the Senate to confirm even routine nominees, Jackson would be near-impossible to replace.
Republicans have made the EPA a symbol of their opposition to new regulations and blacklisted most officials with ties to green groups -- President Obama's Commerce Secretary nominee John Bryson, who co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council before becoming CEO of the utility Edison International and serving on the boards of Boeing and Disney, has been awaiting a vote for months since Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) put a hold on his nomination.
But that has not dissuaded environmentalists such as Thomas McGarity, a law professor at the University of Texas and a scholar at the environment-focused Center for Progressive Reform, who wrote a widely circulated article arguing that Jackson should take a stand.
"Realistically, it is not very likely that Jackson will violate a direct order of the president to put the standard aside until after the election," McGarity wrote. "If not, she should therefore do the honorable thing and resign."
McGarity said doing otherwise would be breaking the law because the Clean Air Act says air quality standards must be set at a level that protects even the most vulnerable Americans. Agency scientists found that current limits are not good enough, saying a stricter standard would prevent as many as 2,200 heart attacks and 4,300 deaths per year, as well as tens of thousands of asthma attacks.
President Obama, who issued an executive order earlier this year telling agencies to be more mindful of the burdens of their regulations, raised those sorts of concerns when he told EPA to wait for the next ozone review deadline in 2013. But in last night's jobs speech to Congress, he signaled he won't back away from other pollution rules assailed by Republicans and business groups.
Jackson was sitting in the audience next to White House chief of staff Bill Daley when Obama mentioned the need to limit mercury.
The agency has recently targeted mercury in new rules for boilers and cement kilns and plans to clamp down on the largest mercury source -- coal-fired power plants -- in rules that are scheduled to be finalized later this year.
"We were heartened that he recognized the awkward position he's put scientists in general, and maybe Lisa Jackson especially, in with the ozone rule, by stating that among the thousands of regulations he was talking about, that one wasn't going anywhere," Rogers said.