EPA's Lisa Jackson gets cordial questioning from Louisiana congressmen

02 29, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson endured three-and-half hours of often tendentious questioning from Republicans on the House Energy Commerce Committee Tuesday. But her encounters with the two Louisianans on the committee -- Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge -- were unusually cordial.

Scalise began questioning Jackson, who grew up in New Orleans, by thanking her for her support for the the effort to dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines levied against BP for Gulf restoration efforts. Scalise recently won House support for an amendment to accomplish that, which was added to the energy section the surface transportation bill. Jackson, who President Barack Obama named to head the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, told the Louisiana lawmaker that, "it is extremely important that those resources return to the Gulf of Mexico, so thank you for your leadership."

In his questioning, Scalise said he hoped that EPA wouldn't seek to interfere with what he said has been effective state regulation of hydraulic fracturing, and prodded EPA to move quickly to approve the necessary permits for a Nucor Steel plant in Louisiana.

Cassidy opened his questioning by congratulating Jackson for being "unflappable" through a long day of testimony.

"I worry about the other shoe that is about to drop," replied Jackson.

"There is no other shoe," Cassidy assured her.

But Cassidy did, very politely, press Jackson on a few matters.

He said that the president had talked about using natural gas as a transportation fuel, which Cassidy said he thought was a great idea, but wondered what if there was anything the administration was doing to pursue that objective.

"I don't believe there is a legislative initiative right now," said Jackson.

Cassidy asked about the use of methanol from natural gas or wood sources as a fuel additive, and how it is his understanding that the regulatory process would take so many years that, despite its merits, it is not being seriously pursued. Jackson said she would be happy to set up a meeting for Cassidy with EPA's experts.

Cassidy also asked whether community groups that receive EPA funds ever issue environmental claims that may or may not based on good science. Jackson said that EPA may do a fiscal audit of those groups, but it was unlikely they would audit their press releases. But, she said, "in general, I see your point."

Cassidy said he had no particular case in mind, but Republicans repeatedly questioned her during the hearing about particular grants EPA has given to what sounded, on the surface, like unlikely recipients, including a kinesthetic dance troupe doing environmental justice work in Utah, a camp called Kumbaya, and a Baptist church.

"Why would you give a grant to a Baptist church?" asked Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex.

"Why not?" replied Jackson.