EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the government would not stand in the way of allowing states to regulate emissions. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch / UPI)
Barack Obama put the teeth back in America's environmental protection regime today, revisiting two widely criticised decisions from the George Bush era on car exhaust and mercury emissions.
Lisa Jackson, the head of the environmental protection agency, told a conference that the Obama administration now would not stand in the way of a decision from a New Jersey court requiring coal and oil-fired power plants to install more stringent mercury controls.
The EPA also announced that it would revisit its Bush-era refusal to allow California and more than a dozen other states regulate car exhaust.
Obama directed the EPA to reconsider its decision in his first week in the White House.
Jackson said the agency had launched a review, including a public hearing, of its refusal to allow California to impose more stringent controls on car exhaust. "It is imperative that we get this decision right, and base it on the best available science and a thorough understanding of the law."
Jackson's directive, announcing that the EPA was revisiting the California decision, was openly critical of the way Bush officials ran the agency.
It said the Bush administration had made a "substantial departure" from earlier practice when it refused to allow the state to regulate emissions.
"Many different parties - including California, states that have adopted or are interested in adopting California's standards, members of Congress, scientists, and other stakeholders - have expressed similar concerns about the denial of the waiver," the EPA said.
The decisions were further evidence of the Obama's determination to remove obstacles placed by the Bush administration on court decisions that came down on the side of the environment or health concerns and would have been costly for industry.
In the mercury case, Jackson has a personal stake. She headed the state's environmental regulatory agency when a federal appeals court first struck down the Bush era EPA's refusal to move against huge power plants whose emissions had created dangerous mercury levels in New Jersey.
Jackson, at the time of the decision last year, called it a "tremendous victory".
The EPA had been balking since 2005 at regulating emissions at the plants.
The agency had also obstructed efforts by California and other states to adopt their own emission standards for cars.
Jackson's decision to announce the mercury decision at a green jobs conference was further evidence of the new reality in Washington, with the environmental and labour movements now embraced as allies of the Obama administration
On a day when the unemployment rate hit a 17-year high of 13.9%, she offered assurances that the greening of the economy that is at the heart of Obama's could help make up for the steady decline in manufacturing jobs.
"Green jobs are no longer a concept. They are very much a reality," Jackson said.
She went on to argue that Obama's support for green building standards, and his moves on Thursday to promote energy efficiency, would help create more well paying jobs in manufacturing.
"I am always one to remind us all that the jobs - the steel working jobs and the fabrication jobs associated with putting controls on power plants that protect human health - are jobs. They are good jobs," she said.