Outgoing EPA chief regrets lack of dialogue with rural America

Departing Departing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson said she wished she had communicated better during her tenure with rural regions that felt victimized by the agency’s pollution rules.

“If I were starting again, I would from day one make a much stronger effort to do personal outreach in rural America," Jackson said in a wide-ranging interview with Reuters published Monday.

Clashes with rural GOP lawmakers characterized much of Jackson’s time in Obama administration, but Jackson has lamented what she says are inaccurate claims about the scope of EPA’s agenda.

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"Had I known that these myths about everything from cow flatulence to spilled milk could be seen as 'The EPA is coming to get you,' I would have spent more time trying to inoculate against that,” she said.

Battles over the effect of EPA policy on the agriculture industry were just some of Jackson’s collisions with Republicans.

House Republicans spearheaded attacks on emissions regulations rolled out under her watch.

EPA, the White House and supportive Democrats have said the air pollution rules provide health benefits that outweigh costs.

But many of those arguments failed to gain traction with rural lawmakers and their constituents.

Republicans charged EPA rules were stunting an economic recovery. They said the standards disproportionately hit their constituents, many of whom rely on coal-fired electricity.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee were particularly adamant about the issue. They said Jackson ignored the effect those rules had on power prices for some of the nation’s poorest citizens.

House Republicans held a series of votes last Congress to nix air toxics rules, block the EPA’s power to regulate carbon emissions and scrap other policies. Those measures failed to move in the Senate.

Jackson blasted House Republicans for those moves in an interview last month with USA Today. She said their actions did not mesh “with the will of the people” on EPA’s efforts to curb air and water pollution. 

— This story was updated at 5:32 p.m.