Politics

Departing Environmental Chief Suggests Obama Has Failed On Climate

A pointed statement on the way out. “I spoke about the need to address climate change, but…”

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Administration announced Thursday that she would step down in a statement that implied inaction on climate change during President Obama’s first term.

Jackson mentions climate change just once in her statement, saying that at the time of her nomination, she “spoke about the need to address climate change.” But the rest of the statement appears to make the tacit argument that she succeeded even though that initiative failed. Jackon lists other issues on her agenda that the EPA was more successful in tackling: “air pollution, toxic chemicals and children’s health issues, redevelopment and waste-site cleanup issues, and justice for the communities who bear disproportionate risk.”

Although she says she leaves with “confidence the ship is sailing in the right direction,” Jackson’s choice not to highlight climate initiatives gestures toward Obama’s so far mixed legacy on environmental issues.

During Obama’s first year in office, cap and trade legislation died in the Senate. In 2012, however, the president was able to implement fuel economy standards, raising fuel efficiency by 2016 to 35.5 miles per gallon.

Jackson’s statement, in full:

I want to thank President Obama for the honor he bestowed on me and the confidence he placed in me four years ago this month when he announced my nomination as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. At the time I spoke about the need to address climate change, but also said: “There is much more on the agenda: air pollution, toxic chemicals, and children’s health issues, redevelopment and waste-site cleanup issues, and justice for the communities who bear disproportionate risk.” As the president said earlier this year when he addressed EPA’s employees, “You help make sure the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat are safe. You help protect the environment not just for our children but their children. And you keep us moving toward energy independence … We have made historic progress on all these fronts.” So, I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction, and ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference.

Update: Jim O’Hara, Associate Administrator for the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education at the EPA, told BuzzFeed Thursday afternoon that his office did not believe Jackson’s statement suggested a failure of the Obama administration on climate change.

O’Hara, who said he helped craft the statement, said, “It says what it says, which was that in addition to climate change, the EPA needed to address a host of other issues,” said O’Hara. “To characterize it as a ‘pointed statement’ is to misread it.”

The EPA also directed BuzzFeed to a statement made by President Obama on Jackson’s departure.

“Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink,” the president’s statement read, “including implementing the first national standard for harmful mercury pollution, taking important action to combat climate change under the Clean Air Act and playing a key role in establishing historic fuel economy standards that will save the average American family thousands of dollars at the pump.”

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