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EPA chief: U.S. making up for lost time

Dec 10, 2009 - Juliet Eilperin - Washington Post

COPENHAGEN--The United States has been "fighting to make up for lost time" in the fight against global warming since President Obama took office, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson said Wednesday.

In the Obama administration's keynote speech at the U.N.-sponsored climate talks here, Jackson said more progress has been made in the last 11 months than what "happened in the last eight years prior" under former president George W. Bush.

Making a pitch to an international community that has demanded bolder action from Washington on climate change, Jackson detailed a list of measures ranging from stricter fuel economy standards to the promotion of renewable offshore energy projects.

But Jackson's biggest applause line came when we said she was "proud" of the EPA's declaration Monday that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. "That is a decision that has been a long time coming," she said to a packed crowd in the U.S. Pavillion.

Jackson wouldn't comment publicly on the state of the U.N.-sponsored climate talks. But she has made the case for the U.S. position in a series of closed-door briefings over the last 24 hours, including meetings with Connie Hedegaard, the Danish chair of the climate conference, and Xie Zhenhua, vice-chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commision.

Jackson said she discussed with Hedegaard, who is guiding negotiations here, the significance of the greenhouse gas declaration. "No one can say we are a nation that is...a climate denier," Jackson told The Washington Post. "We are finally leading the world for us to have a united solution" to global warming.

In her session with Xie, Jackson said, she discussed how the two countries could collaborate on a new memorandum of understanding in which the U.S. has agreed to help China track its greenhouse gas emissions. "We think that's very important," she said.

Jackson said she has emphasized in her meetings that while the Obama administration will push Congress to enact legislation next year curbing greenhouse gas emissions, it will move ahead with plans to both finalize greenhouse gas rules for vehicles in March, and then curb the carbon output from large emitters like coal-fired power plants.

"We will continue to think about how the Clean Air Act applies," she said.

It's unclear whether Jackson--who also met with youth activists and African women affected by climate change, and joined deputy special envoy for climate change Jonathan Pershing in addressing more than 250 non-governmental group representatives--succeeding in convincing delegates here that the U.S. has done what it takes to help secure a global climate pact.

On Wednesday morning, Xie told Reuters the U.S. needs to lay out a more ambitious reduction target than its current proposal to cut America's emissions "in the range of 17 percent" below 2005 levels.

"I do hope that President Obama can bring a concrete contribution to Copenhagen," Xie said.

In her speech, Jackson said that in light of the scientific finding, the EPA is obligated "to take reasonable efforts to reduce greenhouse pollutants under the Clean Air Act."

In a sign of how intensely people are watching the Obama administration's actions at this conference, dozens of people gathered at the door of the small pavilion long before Jackson started speaking--only to be turned away because the room was full.

While Jackson deflected questions about the ongoing state of negotiations, she fielded several queries about Monday's endangerment decision, which she said opens the door to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. At the same time, she said, the White House still will push Congress to produce a U.S. climate bill.

"This is not an either/or moment," Jackson said. "This is a both/and moment." By Juliet Eilperin | December 9, 2009; 8:05 AM ET