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Obama's Pick for EPA Pledges to Rely on Science

"Science, science, science, and the rule of law," demanded Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) at the confirmation hearing today for Lisa Jackson, the presumptive head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, got what she wanted: a firm statement by Jackson that she will use science to guide her decisions on environmental policy and regulation.

Jackson's response after the jump.

Reading from a prepared statement, Jackson said:

Science must be the backbone of what EPA does. The environmental and public-health laws Congress has enacted direct the EPA administrator to base decisions on the best available science. EPA's addressing of scientific decisions should reflect the expert judgment of the Agency's career scientists and independent advisors.

If I am confirmed, I will administer with science as my guide. I understand that the laws leave room for policy-makers to make policy judgments. But if I am confirmed, political appointees will not compromise the integrity of EPA's technical experts to advance particular regulatory outcomes.

There's some wiggle room in there, of course (see "guide" and "policy judgments"). Stephen Johnson, who has headed EPA since 2005, used those terms to justify regulatory decisions that environmentalists said favored industry over public health. And many suspected that Johnson was simply following orders from the White House's Office of Management and Budget. When Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) asked how Jackson would resolve a conflict with OMB, Jackson said she'll make up her own mind on regulations.

Under questions, Jackson made some promises, such as to quickly reassess the hazards posed by hundreds of coal ash dumps across the country and "immediately" revisit EPA's denial of California's petition to clamp down on auto emissions.

On a lighter note, Jackson also pledged to visit climate change skeptic Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and discuss a speech he gave last week on the topic. "That should be fun," Boxer quipped.

Jackson was uniformly praised by the senators and appears headed for an easy confirmation. Boxer said she hopes to have it wrapped up by Inauguration Day.