President Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency is wasting no time in laying out an aggressive agenda to curb global warming—remarks sure to draw the ire of Republicans.
On Tuesday, Gina McCarthy gave her first public speech since being confirmed by the U.S. Senate less than two weeks ago after a record 136-day confirmation fight led by obstructionist Republicans. She told the crowd at Harvard Law School that the EPA is seeking to develop a new mindset about how environmental protection is part of the country’s economic agenda.
McCarthy, who has been in charge of the EPA’s air pollution office since 2009, argued that initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions are both environmentally critical and also a potential boon to the economy. Some Republicans, of course, have argued that there’s no scientific proof that humans are behind climate change and that environmental rules and regulations squash jobs.
“Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs please?” McCarthy asked. “…We are not just about rules and regulations.”
Instead, she said, America needs to embrace cutting pollution as “a way to spark business innovation.”
“We need to cut carbon pollution to grow jobs. We need to cut carbon pollution to strengthen the economy…Let’s approach this as an opportunity of a lifetime,” McCarthy added, insisting that investments in infrastructure and clean energy will turn America into a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.
McCarthy’s role is critical for Obama’s second term. As a hope-and-change candidate, Obama promised to slow the rise of ocean tides and turn back the troubling trend of man’s degradation of the environment. But a cap-and-trade bill was squashed in Obama’s first term—even after the Democratic House passed it—and now, Obama has few options beyond the EPA to affect climate change.
During a major environmental address at Georgetown University last month, Obama announced a timeline for setting new regulations to limit how much carbon pollution can be emitted from both new and existing power plants. The president also said that he would not greenlight the construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline if it will result in an increase of greenhouse gas emissions.
Proponents of the Keystone Pipeline project—mainly Republicans—say the plan, which would create a pipeline from Canada to Texas, would create thousands of jobs and make the country less dependent on foreign sources; critics say the project would release dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. They also point to recent oil spills in Florida Texas and Arkansas , which are raising questions about the environmental dangers of the project.
During a Q&A following her speech, McCarthy was asked by environmental group, the Sierra Club, what the EPA would do about Keystone. She said the organization would “continue to be an honest commenter on the environmental impact,” acknowledging the EPA does not have all the answers. McCarthy said it’s not “my job out of the gate to know what the path forward is. It is absolutely my obligation to let those voices be heard and to listen to them.”
Obama told the New York Times over the weekend that there’s “no evidence” the project would create that many jobs, saying the most “realistic” estimates say they would create 2,000 jobs during construction for a year or two, then somewhere around 50 to 100 jobs after that.
During the Georgetown speech, Obama also took a dig a climate change skeptics, saying he lacked the “patience for anyone who denies that this problem is real,” adding “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat-Earth society” and that science has put to bed any questions about human activity affecting global warming.
Similarly, during her speech, McCarthy said “We are not going to stop looking at the science.”
She also insisted global warming would not be solved overnight. “But it will be engaged over the next three years. That I can promise you,” said McCarthy.