Attacking EPA: What Lisa Jackson really said

November 1, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

We’ve written before about how quick West Virginia political leaders are these days to jump in and defend the honor of the coal industry against any slight or perceived slight. Well, it happened again, this time after some comments that EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. And, of course, some West Virginia media outlets jumped in to parrot the politicians’ talking points …

First, WDTV-News reported:

Reports claim that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson allegedly attacked the coal industry at an event Thursday, and now our lawmakers are speaking out.

Jackson reportedly said the coal industry is on life support, and she supposedly attacked Representative David McKinley’s coal ash legislation.

McKinley defended his legislation in a statement. He said, “Coal ash, when recycled, actually makes building materials, and other products, more affordable and environmentally-friendly, and yet, the President opposes my bipartisan bill to finally create federal standards regulating coal ash.”

We caught up with Senator Joe Manchin to get his thoughts on the issue. “I’d rather choose working and rebuilding America by using the energy we have here and try to find that balance. So I guess we just philosophically disagree,” he said.

Not to be outdone, MetroNews jumped in with this story:

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., blasted the top environmental officer in the Obama administration Thursday after allegedly saying the coal industry is on “life support.”

According to a McKinley release issued Thursday, federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson told students at Howard University, “In their [the coal industry] entire history — 50, 60, 70 years, or even 30 … they never found the time or the reason to clean up their act. They’re literally on life support. And the people keeping them on life support are all of us.”

Calling Jackson’s comments “false and offensive,” McKinley blamed Jackson for many of the coal industry’s problems.

McKinley apparently continued:

“The coal industry is on ‘life support’ for one reason only: Lisa Jackson and Barack Obama,” McKinley said. “It takes a lot of gall to sit there in her cushy Washington office – lighted by coal, in a building constructed with coal ash – handing down these job-killing regulations, and then turn around and claim the coal industry owes her a favor.

“It is now unmistakably clear to me that Lisa Jackson’s regulations are not intended to simply strike a proper balance between industry and the environment; rather, the hostility conveyed in her attacks betrays a radical ideologue who believes the folks who mine coal, burn coal and recycle its ash are little better than criminals.”

OK … now go back and look again at the way the MetroNews piece quoted Lisa Jackson:

In their [the coal industry] entire history — 50, 60, 70 years, or even 30 … they never found the time or the reason to clean up their act. They’re literally on life support. And the people keeping them on life support are all of us.

And then, look at what Administrator Jackson actually said, according to the original press account from Greenwire (subscription required):

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today said her agency will fight to oversee the coal industry even as Republicans wage war on regulations, but she stopped short of explicitly supporting student-led efforts to shut down campus coal plants.

Many coal-fired power plants have neglected to update their equipment for decades, she said, and EPA plans to ensure they do so through new toxic emissions standards. Those standards — which were recently delayed a month — would make power plants use up-to-date technology to control mercury, heavy metals and acid gases by about Jan. 1, 2016.

“In their entire history — 50, 60, 70 years, or even 30 … they never found the time or the reason to clean up their act,” Jackson said.

“They’re literally on life support. And the people keeping them on life support are all of us.”

She didn’t say that the “coal industry is on life support.” She wasn’t talking broadly about the coal industry. She was talking about aging power plants and noting, correctly, that many of them have been in service for decades and still lack the most advanced pollution controls.

10 Responses to “Attacking EPA: What Lisa Jackson really said”

  1. Mari-Lynn says:

    How curious Sen Manchin and Cong McKinney are so outraged that anyone would say the coal industry is on “life support” (which apparently Administrator Jackson did not even say) Never one to miss an opportunity to support the coal industry, these politicians, like Sen Manchin and Cong Mc Kinney, should then immediately stop the billions of dollars in subsidies we are paying to keep coal on “life support”

    This government, meaning every taxpaying citizen in America, has subsidizes the coal industry around $17 billion between 2002 and 2008, including tax credits for production of “nonconventional” fuels ($14.1 billion), tax breaks on coal royalties ($986 million), exploration, and development breaks ($342 million), according to a study by the Environmental Law Institute.

    Around $1.5 billion of the federal costs are associated with damages to miners’ health such black lung.


    In addition to all this federal subsidy money given to the coal industry, Kentucky has granted $115 million to the coal industry. Virginia grants tax credits to coal power plant of about $26 million to power plants in addition to credits ranging from 40 cents to $2 per ton for another 20 million tons not burned by power plants.

    All these subsidies we all pay to keep coal on life support do not even include the cost to our health and environment from coal, the health effects of MTR as reported by Dr Hendryx in 19 peer reviewed health studies ( none of them refuted by the coal industry), the healthcare cost of 47 tons per year of mercury from burning coal that put 300,000 fetuses at risk for neurological damage each year , or the cost of coal’s 20 percent contribution to global-warming gases.

    The coal industry needs to be taken off “life support” before all of us human beings have to be put on life support because of them.

  2. Inspector says:

    What has made so many upset with the Administrator’s comments at her speech with the student activists, is that she is encouraging the activist activity to oppose something that is currently legal. That is not something that a person in her position should be doing.

    EPA chief encourages college activists in campaign against coal
    McClatchy Newspapers

    College environmental activists met Thursday with Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson to tell her what they’re doing at their schools to try to shut down campus coal-fired heating plants.

    “It’s so important that your voices are heard, that campuses that are supposed to be teaching people aren’t meanwhile polluting the surrounding community with mercury and costing the children a few IQ points because of the need to generate power. It’s simply not fair,” Jackson said.
    The three dozen student activists from coal-consuming states such as Georgia, Kentucky and Indiana included leaders of Sierra Club campus groups that have been pushing to switch from coal to cleaner forms of energy.

    “Make sure we don’t lose what we have already in trying to keep stretching forward,” Jackson told them. “Because it would be tragic if we take one step forward and then we end up taking five or six steps back.”
    Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, have held 168 roll-call votes so far this year on measures that would reduce the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, waste-disposal laws and other national laws.

    “None of them are safe right now,” Jackson said of those environmental-protection statutes. “It was my generation and a generation before who advocated in the ’60s until 1970, and finally they created the EPA in 1970. You would think all that’s behind us? We’re talking about losing all that.”

  3. Inspector says:

    I would add, the notion that environmental laws are being rolled back just isn’t true. This blog, with good reason, calls out the rhetoric of those advocating the pro-coal position. The question is, will this same blog call out the Administration for partaking in the same type of inflammatory and inaccurate rhetoric.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    If Sen. Manchin and Rep. McKinley don’t like that part of what Administrator Jackson said, then that’s what they should have criticized. That’s not what they did … instead, they misquoted her, took her out of context, and basically put words in her mouth that she didn’t say.

    As for “inflammatory and inaccurate rhetoric” about what the GOP-controlled House is doing regarding major environmental laws, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. There’s no question that the House — as this blog has written many times — is trying to dismantle clean water and clean air protections that exist in current law. If the laws aren’t being rolled back, it’s only because the Senate hasn’t so far passed any of these measures.


  5. Inspector says:

    I am not aware of all of the legislation that “roll back” the CAA, CWA, RCRA. I read a lot of bills, as I read them that address new regulations and the like. I don’t see legislation that is fundamentally changing our major environmental laws.

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I don’t know what bills you read, but they must be different from the ones I’ve read … you don’t have to look very hard to find efforts to make fundamental changes in the Clean Water Act, for example …

    Take Rep. Rahall’s bill, for example, which I discussed here, … The Congressional Research concluded, after reviewing this bill:

    While Congress has regularly registered concerns with regulatory initiatives of EPA and other federal agencies and sometimes considers legislative proposals to alter or de-fund an agency’s ability to implement a particular regulatory program, it is highly unusual for Congress to advance legislation that would broadly alter the federal-state partnership in order to address dissatisfaction with specific actions by EPA or another agency.


  7. Inspector says:

    H.R. 2018 is the one bill that you may be able to cite, and even this would only adjust the water quality standards setting process, something that states are already doing. That said, this bill has a number of amendments that would be made if it were to move forward.

    Other than H.R. 2018, what else?

  8. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Well, how many examples do you want?

    Here’s another one:

    H.R. 2041, TRAIN,

    Among other things, this bill would repeal current law that sets timelines for EPA to enact important air pollution standards, and it would make major changes in the process of setting such standards.

    Here’s a previous list — now outdated — of more than 100 roll-call votes by the House GOP leadership on anti-environmental protection measures,

    You’re certainly welcome to your opinion. But no one with much credibility is trying to argue that H.R. 2018 is not a significant change to existing law. If that’s you’re argument, you haven’t provided much to convince me. Can you point to any analysis by anyone other than yourself that supports that view?


  9. Vernon says:

    After the recent coal ash disaster, McKinley should be eating some crow right now.
    And there’s nothing at all wrong with an administration encouraging students to speak out for justice. It’s not as if she’s encouraging them to throw bricks through windows, or any violent acts similar to those promoted by certain coal industry promoters’ signs, stickers, and facebook posts.

  10. Gilbo says:

    In my opinion, at least, the fact that she mentioned “50, 60, 70 years, or even 30” makes it obvious that she wasn’t referring to the coal industry as a whole. How could that refer to the coal industry collectively? As for encouraging activism, it is environmental officials’ duty to promote a healthy environment. If she and others believe there is a significant danger and concern with aging power plants she should say so.

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