‘Train’ has left station on clean energy, climate — McCarthy

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2016

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy rallied today for her agency and the U.S. role in combating climate change.

At a National Press Club luncheon, McCarthy touted EPA’s work during the Obama administration on drafting new regulations to provide clean air and water, as well as the agency’s expansive role in international climate agreements, such as last year’s negotiations in Paris and the Montreal Protocol for controlling hydrofluorocarbons.

She also dismissed worries that much of EPA’s work under President Obama will be wiped clean from the history books by President-elect Donald Trump, noting the private sector had already begun moving to clean energy and a low-carbon economy long before EPA issued its controversial Clean Power Plan to reduce power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.

“The train to a global, clean energy future has already left the station,” McCarthy said, echoing remarks last week in an E&E News interview (EnergyWire, Nov. 21).

In her speech, in which she never mentioned Trump by name, McCarthy said the United States has a choice: either to get on board that clean energy train or be left behind. The EPA chief said Obama chose to lead, given climate change is among the deadliest threats facing mankind today.

McCarthy said that before the Obama administration, “developing countries would point a finger at” the United States for stalling on climate change.

“Now they are wondering if the U.S. will turn its back on science and be left behind. That is the choice we face,” McCarthy said.

She began her speech noting how the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 — by unanimous consent in the Senate, with only one vote against it in the House and signed by a Republican president, Richard Nixon. The EPA leader said such bipartisan agreement is possible even today, describing eventually how easily the Toxic Substances Control Act reform bill moved through Congress and was signed by Obama this year.

McCarthy applauded the law, saying it was the first update to an environmental statute in 20 years.

“We can make things work in Washington if we choose to focus on the job we are given,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy took questions after her speech on a wide range of topics, including several on what she thinks Trump will ultimately do with the agency. The president-elect has questioned the science behind climate change and pledged to tamp down EPA authority once in office.

Asked to name one regulation to save from Trump’s wrath, McCarthy joked, “You’re asking me to pick among my children?”

The EPA administrator said despite promises from Republicans to cut down the agency, the American people will still be wanting its services.

“People will still want the same things that they have always wanted, and that is a bright future for their kids,” McCarthy said.

The EPA chief said she and her staff are working to ensure a smooth transition to the incoming Trump administration, but said EPA has not been contacted yet by the president-elect’s transition team. After some shakeups in staff post-Election Day, Trump’s agency landing teams are expected to arrive at the Energy and Interior departments as well as other agencies this week (Greenwire, Nov. 21).

McCarthy’s question-and-answer session was interrupted twice by protestors, one calling for her position on whether to build the Dakota Access oil pipeline and the other asking for a meeting with the EPA chief to discuss the link between contaminated drinking water and hydraulic fracturing, holding aloft a bottle of cloudy, brownish water. Both protesters were led out of the room.

Regarding the pipeline, McCarthy didn’t offer a position but said, “It’s not an issue that is off our radar screen in any way.” She noted that she and Obama have visited Standing Rock in North Dakota. McCarthy said the other protester was “a good example of how people continue to be passionate about having clean water and clean air.”

“It bodes well for the continued mission of EPA and the work that we do,” McCarthy said, adding she wished the agency could meet everyone’s needs.

Asked whether she had any advice for whoever succeeds her as EPA administrator, McCarthy said the new chief should keep his or her eyes open to agency employees.

“My advice is to listen to the great staff of EPA,” she said. “They are expert in these issues.”