EPA’s Lisa Jackson loves movies. Camping, not so much.

Al Kamen
Columnist July 17, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency might be a favorite punching bag of conservatives (Climate change? What climate change?). But it just so happens that the agency’s leader, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, seems to relish a good fight. The EPA’s first African American chief has turned in feisty performances at Capitol Hill hearings and defended greenhouse-gas rules.

She chats with the Loop about her secret addiction, her Cabinet-level movie buddies and her un-glamorous first job as a maintenance (wo)man.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Which Cabinet secretary would you most like to hang out with, and what would you do?

[Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano and [Health and Human Services Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius and I are movie buffs. We recently caught “Moonrise Kingdom” at the AFI Theater in downtown Silver Spring. I love that theater.

What’s your favorite non-work-related Web site/app/
magazine?

Hands down, the New York Times crossword puzzle app. I am an addict and do the puzzles almost every day.

Fill in the blank: People would be surprised to know that I _________.

Don’t camp. In fact, I really don’t sleep outside. People think the head of the Environmental Protection Agency must be a naturalist, but I am just a city girl who believes that fighting pollution and protecting our health is important — no matter where you live.

What’s your dream job?

I’d be the chef/owner of a perpetually hip restaurant.

What motivated you to go into public service?

It’s probably my dad. He was a mailman and delivered the mail in New Orleans when I was girl. He sometimes took me around to meet some of his customers. I loved the admiration they had for him and the pride he had in his work. Dad died when I was in high school. My office at EPA was originally the Office of the Postmaster General. When I walk past the postal seal to get to my office, I think about my dad.

Favorite TV show?

“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

Which character from that show do you most identify with?

Samantha Bee, of course!

What subject, other than your work, do you know the most about?

I was a math geek in school.

What’s the best job you ever had?

Other than my current job, which really is the best, gas-plant maintenance man. It was my first real job, and it was between my freshman and sophomore years in college. Nothing beats the first real job. I was a total rookie, worked hard doing manual labor in some of the hottest weather I can remember. But I could point to what I had accomplished at the end of the day, I had money in my pocket, and the other maintenance guys (and they were all guys!) took great care of me and taught me the ropes.

What’s one word you wish people would use to describe you?

Influential.

You can draft one person in the private sector to come work for the federal government. Who would it be, and what would you have them do?

Selena Gomez, to be our EPA youth ambassador and expand the conversation on the environment to a whole new generation of young people who need to know why environment matters and how to take action to protect it.

Background Check is a Loop feature in which we grill various government types about their lives on and off the clock. Please send suggestions for future subjects to intheloop@washpost.com.

Remember thatexcellent judicial conference scheduled for Maui in August? The one with sport fishing, golf, yoga, surfing lessons, tennis and Zumba?

Better sign up now. It could be the last great one in paradise.

Bowing to demands from the ranking Republicans on the Senate Judiciary and Budget committees, Sens. Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit announced Friday that it would postpone its 2013 conference in California to 2014. (Maui’s still on, however.)

The move “responds to the current budget constraints facing the federal judiciary and the federal government in general,” according to the announcement.

The most obvious concern about Maui, aside from the idea of having a million-dollar conference in an island paradise, would be sending some 150 of the circuit’s district and appellate judges from eight Western states — plus an equal number of employees and government lawyers — to Hawaii rather than have Hawaii’s five judges fly to the mainland. (More than half of the circuit’s judges are in California.)

“An encouraging sign,” Grassley said Monday of the judges’ move, but not good enough. There’s no indication that this year’s conference is going to be scaled back or that future conference expenses will be kept down. The senators still want Maui canceled or scaled back. (Uh-oh — there goes the Zumba.)

Well, if you can’t go to Maui, the 2014 conference is at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey — not quite Maui, but hardly the Toledo Motel 6.

Ire on the prize

If tourists are finding post-Bastille Day Paris a little dull, they might want to drop by Tuesday’s meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The international body is expected to thoroughly embarrass itself and finally award a controversial prize funded by dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, whose résumé includes judicial corruption, detaining of citizens and pilfering millions from his country’s coffers.

Loop Fans might recall the long-standing saga over the Obiang prize: Earlier this year, UNESCO voted to remove his name from the prize, making it more likely it would be awarded — despite the objections of the United States and other Western nations, which argue that a “life sciences” prize funded by such an unsavory fellow would be an embarrassment.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has long questioned where the $3 million Obiang is providing to fund the prize is coming from, says the name’s irrelevant. “Whatever name this prize is given, it only serves to tarnish UNESCO’s image,” he said in a statement Monday.

Obiang is slated to attend the award ceremony Tuesday in Paris, although the New York Times reports that he might not be able to be there, as he’s dealing with his son’s mounting legal troubles. Teodorin Nguema Obiang, Equatorial Guinea’s “vice president,” was the subject of a French court’s arrest warrant on Friday “after he refused to be interviewed by magistrates about allegations of money laundering and embezzlement, claiming diplomatic immunity,” the Times reports.

Next: The Bashar al-Assad Human Rights Award?

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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