President-elect Barack Obama said yesterday that his administration would "value science" and "make decisions based on facts" as he nominated an environmental team that includes New Jersey's Lisa Jackson as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Jackson, who for nearly three years led New Jersey's environmental protection efforts, is poised to take over an agency where, critics say, politics has repeatedly trumped science.
Obama signaled a change, saying Jackson "shares my commitment to restoring the EPA's robust role in protecting our air, our water, and abundant natural resources."
He said energy independence is crucial for the nation's security and praised Jackson's work in New Jersey to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, an effort that moved forward yesterday when the state Department of Environmental Protection released an overdue report detailing its ambitious plans.
Jackson, a Princeton-educated engineer who has spent more than 20 years in environmental regulatory positions, said she hopes to show longtime EPA staff that their work is valued.
"EPA's mission has never changed. Its mode of doing business has changed over the years and probably needs to change again," Jackson said in a telephone interview from Chicago.
"As an environmentalist, [there's] no better job to have at this time right now, provided the agency is allowed to do what it's supposed to do."
Jackson, 46, who must be confirmed by the Senate, worked at the EPA's Washington and New York offices. She joined New Jersey's DEP in 2002 and became Gov. Corzine's chief of staff at the start of this month.
Obama also nominated Steven Chu as energy secretary, Nancy Sutley to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Carol Browner to be a newly created White House energy czar.
Jackson cochaired Obama's environment and energy transition team.
Senate Democrats praised the Obama picks.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), chair of the Environment Committee, said the team "signals that positive changes are coming as we work for energy independence and for solutions to global warming."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) called Jackson an "excellent" choice.
"She understands we need real leadership to rebound from the neglect of the last eight years," he said.
The ranking Republican on the environment committee, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, stressed the importance of balancing the environment and the economy, and said he looked forward to working with Jackson.
Outgoing EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, who often bore the brunt of criticism heaped on EPA, called Jackson "uniquely qualified to recognize the challenges facing the agency and lead from Day One."
In New Jersey, Jackson won praise as a consensus-builder from environmentalists and business groups in a state where industry has often complained of feeling under siege.
She worked with a decreasing budget and was part of ambitious plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and shape the state's long-term energy plans.
Some critics say Jackson was slow to act. They cite a roughly four-month delay in issuing the details behind New Jersey's highly-touted global warming initiative and an EPA report that chided the state for moving slowly on cleaning up some of its most polluted sites.
Jackson's successor at DEP, acting Commissioner Mark Mauriello, yesterday released a draft report outlining how the state could meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
It would entail an emissions reduction of about 25 percent below the levels anticipated under a business-as-usual scenario.
In a statement, Corzine said, "This draft report outlines a New Jersey where employees commute without the frustration of traffic and the air pollution it causes, where energy is clean, and where waste is a thing of the past."
The report concludes that three actions in progress - the energy master plan, a low-emission vehicle plan, and a multi-state cap-and-trade program for the electric generating sector called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative - could put New Jersey on track for meeting its 2020 limits.
Matt Elliott, the global warming and clean-energy advocate with Environment New Jersey, called the report "the nation's strongest and most comprehensive plan" to slash emissions.
"It's the first plan we've seen that looks all the way out to 2050 and figures out how to reduce emissions 80 percent," he said.
"It essentially means that by 2050 we'll be totally free from fossil fuels, even to the extent that we'll be powering our cars and trucks with electricity generated by the wind and the sun. It's a pretty big deal to see Gov. Corzine and the DEP say, 'Yes, indeed, we can do this.' "
But the plan is, he cautioned, "just a plan."
Corzine yesterday announced that his chief counsel, Ed McBride, would replace Jackson as chief of staff.