*86, commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental
Protection, holds an eaglet. (courtesy New Jersey Department
of Environmental Protection)
April 2, 2008:
- Lisa Jackson *86 Protecting
Even though Lisa Jackson *86 grew up
a “city girl” in New Orleans and wasn’t particularly
outdoorsy, she has made a career in protecting the environment so
that other people can enjoy hiking, camping, and swimming.
As commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental
Protection, she’s got her work cut out for her in safeguarding
the natural resources of the most densely populated state, which
also is home to the most federal Super-fund sites. The job is “tough,”
she admits. “You never make a decision that pleases everyone.”
On any given day Jackson, who oversees about 3,200 employees,
may work on issues ranging from wildlife management of black bears
to air quality to beach access. One day last year, with a Star-Ledger
reporter, she got a firsthand look at one of the most polluted stretches
of the state’s most contaminated river, the Passaic River
in Newark, whose cleanup has been mired in legal and federal stagnation
since the 1980s, when it was declared a Superfund site. The state
is waiting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to decide
on a cleanup plan and money, and is suing the companies responsible
for polluting in the 1950s and ’60s. “We expect polluters
to pay,” says Jackson.
Despite the legal battles, Jackson doesn’t get discouraged.
“I developed a tougher skin,” she says. With an environmental
protection department that predates the federal agency, New Jersey
has served as a model for shaping national policy, she adds.
In her Trenton office is a framed photograph of Gov. Jon Corzine,
with Jackson behind him, signing legislation to adopt ambitious
goals for the reduction of state greenhouse-gas emissions. She keeps
the pen he used. The governor’s plan calls for a 2020 goal
of rolling back greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels and a 2050 goal
of an 80 percent reduction from 2006 levels. Jackson is putting
together a plan that will outline the means to reach those goals,
including investing in mass transit and alternative fuels and developing
new building codes.
After receiving a scholarship from Shell Oil Co. to attend Tulane
University, Jackson initially saw herself working for the petrochemical
industry. But at college and at Princeton, where she earned a master’s
in chemical engineering and was influenced by professors like Ernest
Johnson, who was working on groundwater cleanup, she developed an
interest in using her engineering skills to address and prevent
pollution. She worked for the EPA from 1987 until moving to New
Jersey’s department in 2002. She was sworn in as commissioner
in February 2006.
To make Corzine’s 2050 vision a reality, she says, residents
must change the way they live — particularly with auto and
water use — to reduce their environmental footprint. The state
also needs to assess its coastal development, because “we
can’t avoid sea-level rise,” says Jackson. “When
I see people still clamoring for development at the shore, you have
to realize that the shoreline will not look the same by midcentury.
And we have to look ahead to what that means for us.”