McCarthy sets direction for EPA moving forward
Cambridge, Mass. – In her first speech as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) administrator, Gina McCarthy noted she is thankful for where her journey has led her, and she noted, “It is really all about our children – our future generations. They are really helping to chart a course for a brighter future.”
In the July 31 address at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., McCarthy explained her plans for the future of EPA, emphasizing that partnership between the federal government, states, communities and tribes will be critical. She also marked important issues, like climate change, carbon reduction and pollution reduction, as top priorities.
“There are great people at EPA who work hard every day and are so good at what they do,” she added. “It is important to protect public health and the environment.”
McCarthy mentioned that EPA has accomplished a number of positive goals since its inception 43 years ago.
“EPA was created 43 years ago by an Executive Order of President Richard Nixon,” McCarthy said. “Who knew an executive order could be so lasting?”
She continued that the country’s success during those years has been long lasting. Decisions and actions by EPA were fraught with controversy, but McCarthy said that the organization will continue to be diligent in moving forward.
McCarthy continued, “What we thought we would do, we have accomplished, and it is a remarkable credit to the President’s leadership.”
Looking at the numbers
As some of the EPA’s accomplishments, she cited statistics showing that emission of air pollutants between 1970 and 2011 decreased by 68 percent while U.S. domestic product increased 212 percent.
“What we wanted to grow, grew, and what we wanted to go down, went down,” McCarthy noted. “From 1970 to 1990, programs under the Clean Air Act helped prevent more than 205,000 premature deaths, 843,000 asthma attacks and 18 million child respiratory illnesses.”
She added that private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during the same period.
“According to our analysis, the Clean Air Act sees $30 in benefit for every one dollar spent,” McCarthy continued. “That isn’t where the story ends.”
Private fund leveraging has also improved environmental quality, she noted.
“We are all about getting environmental improvement wherever it makes sense to improve, and frankly, that is everywhere,” McCarthy said.
“This is an exciting time for all of us,” she added. “Having said that, I also want to acknowledge that we have challenges ahead. They range from substance to failures to communicate, and we need to fix those.”
Today’s environmental challenges are more complicated than ever before, McCarthy noted, requiring continued focus.
“We have to convince the American public that we are taking advantage of the best thinking, newest technologies and the most cost effective, sustainable technologies to meet their needs, as well as the mission of EPA, moving forward,” she said.
To accomplish that end, McCarthy said that understanding climate change and environmental protections, coupled with sound national and global environmental and economic agendas will be important.
“The fragility of the world’s ecosystems are real. The threats posed by changing climate are real, and to turn those challenges around, we need a strong, sustainable economy that embraces these issues and behaves in accordance with what we know about science, the environment, technology and public health,” she commented.
A fundamental challenge, said McCarthy, will be the economic climate.
“Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue – it is a fundamental economic challenge,” she commented. “It is a fundamental challenge internationally, and we need to embrace that challenge.”
Aside from climate change, issues such as fuel economy standards and water are on the forefront of McCarthy’s mind. She also listed access to clean drinking water, preserving limited resources, maintaining storm water structure and improving water treatment facilities.
“Those are some of the most significant challenges we are going to face in a capital constrained world,” McCarthy added.
“We also have to engage in solutions through partnerships and collaboration,” McCarthy explained. “The federal government shouldn’t be leading – it should follow. We should follow our local communities, neighborhoods, cities, towns, urban areas and states.”
In forming valuable partnerships, she remarked that solutions will allow the maximum economic and environmental benefits.
At the same time, while addressing challenges, McCarthy noted that she must follow the leadership of President Obama.
“We will focus on innovation, a path forward to collaboration and we will move forward together,” she said. “We have no choice.”
Into the future
McCarthy commented that there are a number of strategies that EPA will take on in the future to continue to meet its goals.
“We need to bring new ideas to the table, new ways of planning, new ways of bringing capital to the table and new ways of working at green infrastructure,” she noted. “We also have to make sure we don’t go backwards but continue to move forward.”
“We will stop relying on Congress to act on issues that are too important to wait,” McCarthy commented. “We will be smart, and we will rely on the support of the U.S. as we integrate our environmental challenges into a sustainable economy.”