Lisa Perez Jackson, the first African American Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), brings a wealth of experience to that agency. A scientist by profession, she has spent more than 20 years working as an advocate for the better use and awareness of the environment.
Jackson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 8, 1962, and was adopted two weeks after her birth. She grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana‘s Lower Ninth Ward, which became infamous during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Her adoptive mother continued to live in New Orleans until the hurricane flooded the city. Jackson, who had planned to become a doctor, instead switched her studies to engineering and graduated summa cum laude with a BS in chemical engineering from Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering in 1983. She received a masters degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1986. Jackson was one of only two women in her engineering class at Princeton.
After graduating from Princeton, Jackson was hired by the EPA where she initially worked as a staff level engineer. During her years with the EPA, Jackson was involved with the federal Superfund site remediation program. She developed numerous hazardous waste cleanup regulations and supervised multi-million dollar waste cleanup projects in central New Jersey. She later served as deputy director and acting director of the Northeast Region’s enforcement division.
In 2006, New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine appointed Jackson to be Commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection where she led a staff of nearly 3,000 state employees who managed state parks and beaches, fish and wildlife programs, and historic preservation as well as programs addressing water and air pollution. Jackson was known in New Jersey for her work in reducing greenhouse gases, fighting pollution, and encouraging environmentally-conscious residential and industrial growth.
On December 1, 2008, Governor Corzine appointed Jackson as his Chief of Staff, a post recognized as the second most powerful position in state government. Jackson was the third woman and the first African American to hold the post. She served only 15 days, however, before being nominated by President-Elect Barack Obama to become the new EPA Administrator. Jackson was confirmed to that post by the U.S. Senate on January 23, 2009. Jackson held the post for four years until her resignation on February 15, 2013.