EPA Admin: Americans No Smarter Than Fifth Graders

EPA chief says government not to blame for coal’s decline, criticizes American media in foreign outlet


When asked to craft a headline about her tenure at the EPA, chief administrator Lisa Jackson questioned the American public’s ability to read at a fifth-grade level in an interview with the Guardian:

“In accordance with the law, we moved forward with sensible, cost effective steps at the federal level on climate, using the Clean Air Act.” And I would have a second sentence — see, I can’t write headlines! But it would be something like, “The progress at state and local levels, combined with the federal level, does not obviate the need” — you can’t use obviate, it’s above fifth-grade level! — “does not obviate the need for federal legislation to address this incredibly important challenge for this and future generations.”

Jackson also said the free market, rather than federal regulation, has reduced coal’s prominence as a source of American energy. She blamed public opposition to EPA policies on the public’s ignorance in the interview.

So in my opinion the problem for coal right now is entirely economic. The natural gas that this country has and is continuing to develop is cheaper right now on average. … It just happens that at the same time, these rules are coming in place that make it clear that you cannot continue to operate a 30-, 40-, or 50-year old plant and not control the pollution that comes with it. …

The battle today is about who can get the screaming headline out first. Because, unfortunately, the way the media works, the screaming headline lives forever, and then you spend forever trying to get a headline even half as big that says oh, that wasn’t true. So whether it’s climate change and the myriad reports about that, whether it’s people in rural America who’ve been told all manner of untruths about the work we’re doing — whether it’s that we’re going to regulate farm dust further, or that we’re going to regulate spilled milk, no matter how many times we say it, because their main sources of information are not really being truthful in how they’re giving them information, we spend an awful lot of time trying to explain to people what we’re really doing.

However, Jackson did not address the ways in which government regulations have hurt the coal industry. In May, the New York Times reported that the industry is under siege, “threatened by new regulations from Washington, environmentalists fortified by money from Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York City, and natural gas companies intent on capturing much of the nation’s energy market.”

Coal’s share in American energy has declined from almost 50 percent in 2009 to 34 percent this March.

Senator James Inhofe (R., Okla.) recently announced that the Senate will vote on a resolution to protect coal this week. Inhofe’s legislation aims to “overturn the Obama EPA’s Utility MACT rule, which is specifically designed to shut down coal plants across the country.”