By Daniel J. Weiss, Jackie Weidman & Tiffany Germain
On Thursday April 11th Gina McCarthy will testify at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to become the next Environmental Protection Agency administrator. McCarthy is currently the head of EPA’s Air and Radiation program and in this role, she has helped shape landmark safeguards from air pollution to save lives and protect the health and safety of all Americans.
Throughout her nearly three decade career, McCarthy has been a champion for clean air and has even won past plaudits from Republican leaders, including Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL).
As EPA administrator, McCarthy will build upon her record of success in both the Obama Administration and the state-level programs she helped put into place for both Republican and Democratic governors.
These efforts include:
- Reducing state air pollution: McCarthy worked with Republican governors Mitt Romney (MA) and Jodi Rell (CT). In Massachusetts, she helped cut both carbon and mercury pollution from the state’s five dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Romney also had her develop Massachusetts’s first climate protection action plan. When McCarthy left to head Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection, she helped Connecticut become one of the first ten states to participate in a regional plan to reduce carbon pollution. This program has already reduced carbon pollution by the equivalent of removing 2 million cars from the road for a year.
- Making cars and trucks cleaner, saving drivers money: As Assistant Administrator for Air at the EPA, McCarthy led efforts to establish the first limits on carbon pollution from vehicles. Over the life of the program cars will spew 6 billion metric tons less carbon pollution. The modern fuel economy standards that accompany the carbon pollution standards will double the distance the average car and truck can travel on a gallon of gasoline. This will save the average driver $8,000 in less gasoline purchased over the life of a 2025 model car.
- Reducing carbon pollution from new power plants: After consulting with many stakeholders, including states, utilities, and public health experts, McCarthy helped craft the proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that would require reductions in carbon pollution from new power plants. The proposed rule would reduce carbon pollution that is accelerating climate change and increasing smog and other hazards. An EPA analysis stated that the agency “does not anticipate this rule will have any impacts on the price of electricity, employment or labor markets, or the US economy.” The proposal would have benefits, though. EPA projects that “avoided negative health and environmental effects expected would imply net social benefits from this proposed rule.” Additionally, the standard would help spur investments and job creation in innovative clean technologies. Polls found that the vast majority of Americans support reducing carbon pollution from power plants and the EPA received a record 3.2 million comments in favor of reducing pollution from both new and existing power plants.
- Protecting children from mercury while cutting health care costs: McCarthy led efforts to develop and finalize safeguards to protect children, pregnant women, seniors, and those with respiratory ailments from mercury and toxic air pollution from power plants. Power plants are the largest source of domestic mercury pollution — a known neurotoxin that impairs brain development in the unborn and small children. The standard’s pollution reductions will prevent up to 11,000 early deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks annually. McCarthy testified before Congress that the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards will provide up to $90 billion in health benefits every year, or up to $9 for every $1 in clean-up costs.
While working to achieve these important public health policies, McCarthy has cultivated a strong working relationship with the business community. American Chemistry Council President Cal Dooley told the Washington Post that he “has a lot of confidence in McCarthy’s leadership ability.” Gloria Berquist, VP of the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers similarly touted McCarthy’s strengths, calling her a “pragmatic policymaker” who has “aspirational environmental goals, but she accepts real-world economics.” Stephen Harper, a senior executive at Intel, believes that she is “precisely the kind of leader the agency needs.”
In addition to working well with the business community, McCarthy has been a strong supporter of science. One issue that could come up during tomorrow’s hearing is the Pebble Mine project, a large proposed gold and copper mine in Alaska. The EPA is undertaking a comprehensive watershed assessment of the Bristol Bay region in order to understand how large-scale mining would impact it. Native tribes and others requested such a study because the region is an economic powerhouse for sport, commercial, and subsistence fishing — in fact, approximately 40 percent of America’s fish comes from the region. The assessment will provide stakeholders with peer-reviewed scientific information that will be used to inform future decisions about mine permits. Nevertheless, some members of Congress have asked EPA to withdraw this assessment, which would disregard mining’s potential harm to this valuable fishery.
McCarthy’s strong record of building relationships with the business community will come in handy as she works to implement the White House’s commitment to combat climate change. Over the next four years, she will take on challenges such as developing and implementing carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants. McCarthy must also modernize pollution safeguards under the Clean Air Act, including establishing a health standard for ozone smog that provides more protection for children and seniors. Gina McCarthy’s bipartisan, pragmatic leadership will enhance EPA’s ability to protect public health while fostering long-term economic growth.
Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress. Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant at the Center for American Progress. Tiffany Germain is a Senior Climate/Energy Researcher in the Think Progress War Room.