Departing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson did well by the Great Lakes region, especially with the tighter emissions rules she imposed on coal-fired power plants in Ohio.
But her successor will need to move Congress closer to meaningful legislation on climate change, maintain or improve funding for Great Lakes restoration, and rebuild the program that funds much of the nation’s sewerage work.
Ms. Jackson, the first African American to lead the EPA, helped secure landmark fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles. She infused new life in the agency after eight years of foot-dragging and rollbacks by former President George W. Bush’s administration.
Although the Obama Administration backed off its push for climate legislation after the 2010 election, Ms. Jackson directed EPA initiatives that are reducing the most prevalent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, as well as one of the worst neurotoxins, mercury. The Great Lakes region is especially susceptible to climate change, and is particularly affected by mercury because of how that airborne pollutant multiplies in potency as it settles in fresh water.
Ohio’s heavy reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the nation’s leading producers of greenhouse gases. The EPA mandates show how controls can be tightened without wrecking the region’s economy.
The new standards also have enhanced markets for natural gas and cleaner alternative energy. Coal’s percentage of the nation’s electricity production is its lowest since 1949.
President Obama’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, run by the EPA, has begun to clean up contaminated sediments that have impaired water quality. The next EPA director should push to maintain funding for the initiative at least at the $300 million level of the past few years. Such funding must increase if Mr. Obama is to redeem his 2008 campaign pledge of $5 billion in new money for that work before he leaves office.
Regrettably, the administration has cut financial support of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which pays for sewerage projects. That work is vital to protecting water quality and reducing toxic algae blooms. Toledo is one of many cities that rely on the fund.
This is an important time for the Great Lakes region, as it moves toward a cleaner economy. Ms. Jackson could have been more effective if Mr. Obama had allowed her proposed new standard for smog-forming ozone to stand in 2011.
Anticipating a backlash from conservatives, the President withdrew the standard until after the election. He now needs to name a successor who will pick up where Ms. Jackson left off.