McCarthy sees climate change as both economic, environmental issue

Addressing global climate change is as much an economic as environmental challenge, and future strategies and policies will need to recognize this, US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said in her first public address since her US Senate confirmation.

“We need to feed the economic agenda of this country,” she told an audience at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., on July 30. “We have to move beyond those old discussions about how there’s no inherent conflict between the environment and the economy.

“It’s time to move beyond that dichotomy issue and recognize that threats to the environment are real, and we need a strong economy to embrace these issues and use what we know about science, the economy, and public health to handle them,” McCarthy maintained.

She noted EPA was created 43 years ago by then-President Richard M. Nixon, and the agency has had some remarkable success in the time since. Between 1970 and 2011, air pollutant emissions dropped 68% while US gross domestic product grew 212%, McCarthy said. According to EPA’s analysis, the Clean Air Act’s benefits will outweigh its costs in 2020 by 20-to-1, she added.

“EPA is having a substantive improvement on the lives of people across the United States in a way that does not harm the economy but sparks economic growth,” McCarthy said. “We have to convince the American people that we’re taking advantage of the best thinking and the newest technology to meet their needs.”

She emphasized the importance of working with state and local governments. “EPA cannot dictate solutions. We need to engage others through partnerships and collaboration,” said McCarthy. “We should listen to what’s being done on the ground, because eventually it can be loud enough that people listen to it in DC and take action.”

Time to step up

She said such efforts are the wave of the future, and could provide a model for success across the country. “As more businesses think about the opportunity of climate change, they’ll make more investments,” she predicted. “Other countries have recognized the potential in clean energy and are making investments to move ahead. The president has done his best the last 4 years, but it’s time for the rest of us to step up. We need industry, from large to small startup companies, to work with community and environmental interests.”

Responding to questions following her remarks, McCarthy said she had not read a July 29 report by Ceres, a Boston-based sustainable investment group, which said natural gas flaring in North Dakota has more than doubled in the last 2 years, but was aware of the problem.

One of US President Barack Obama’s directives, when he unveiled his climate action plan, was for US Sec. of Energy Ernest J. Moniz, US Sec. of the Interior Sally Jewell, and the EPA administrator to work together on the matter, she said.

“Methane presents enormous opportunities,” McCarthy declared. “We found a way to regulate emissions from fracing because we had the data right away. It’s leading us to develop a rule to capture those emissions. This would be one EPA rule that will be different because, on its face, it will save tons of money. We also need to address emissions from the oil and the power sectors.”

Asked about EPA’s possible future role in the Obama administration’s eventual decision about the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline’s cross-border permit, she said, “In all seriousness, I think the administration is looking, with the [US Department of State] as a lead, to look at all the environmental issues associated with [it]. I think the best EPA can do is be an honest commenter and continue to work with the administration and the State Department.

“I will say that EPA can be hard to work with, but it’s not supposed to be easy,” she added. “My obligation is to make sure that all voices are heard, and I will continue to do that.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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