Two of your Republican predecessors recently wrote that the EPA is "under siege" from the GOP. Is there a war against the EPA?
There are certainly some members of Congress who have come in with an agenda that includes this agency. We hear words like scaling back and defunding.
A key point of contention is EPA regulations that could be coming on greenhouse gases. What is the EPA looking to do on this issue?
We're talking about updating standards under the Clean Air Act to address pollution. Although I joined the President in calling for legislation, that doesn't mean we can't get started using the Clean Air Act to take a series of moderate steps that would add up to real reduction.
Why should the EPA be regulating carbon?
Because it's the law. The Clean Air Act and Supreme Court cases have said the EPA must determine whether greenhouse gases endanger public health. We have determined, based on multiple lines of scientific evidence, that they do.
What would it mean if legislation to block those regulations were passed?
Congress would essentially be passing a law that says, We, as a bunch of lawmakers, have decided what the science is on this issue. I don't think that history will forget the first time that politicians made a law to overrule scientists.
You've frequently been called upon to testify before Congress. Are you being personally targeted?
I certainly hope not. Americans want a strong EPA that protects public health and reins in polluters. Inside the Beltway, they may be bombarded with different messages. [These hearings are] an opportunity for me to speak to what we're doing.
Can the U.S. balance environmental protection and job creation?
They have been balanced in this country for 40 years, as long as there's been an EPA. We've done it while our country has prospered.
We're nearing the anniversary of the BP oil spill. How much ecological damage was done?
In general, the science coming back is somewhat reassuring. We may see a situation where the ecosystem can recover quite well, but there will be studies for years and years.
You grew up in New Orleans. What did the spill mean to you?
The only difference is that I would go home and hear from people I knew who would reach out to me. If I brought them any comfort, I'm happy, but it was also my job.
Can we make the region better than it was before the spill?
This is not about a response to the oil spill. This is about the President's other promise, which was to make the Gulf ecosystem stronger and more resilient than it was the day before the oil spill happened. To me this is about giving a voice to people who have been working for decades for coastal restoration.
Given the criticism, how do you keep EPA workers positive?
The public knows that were it not for the work of this agency, there would be more sickness, more illness, more incidences of water that can't be used. So what I tell them is to keep their eye on their jobs, to do their jobs with impeccable science and integrity--and I feel confident the American people will turn to us as they should.