Gina McCarthy (G ’81), former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Barack Obama’s presidential administration, discussed the future of the environment in a talk attended by a full crowd of over 100 people last night in the Alumnae Lounge.
The talk, titled “The Future of Environmental Protection,” was hosted by the Experimental College as part of the Janover Family’s “Voices from the Edge” speaker series.
McCarthy started by encouraging optimism and strength in those who stand for progress in environmental protection, especially under President Donald Trump’s administration.
“We are here not to dwell, but to rally, because if you think I’m backing off, you ain’t ever met me,” McCarthy said to applause.
During an interview with the Daily the day before the event, McCarthy said that she wants people to remain optimistic about environmental protection and greenhouse gas emissions, even with the new administration taking a strategy opposite to McCarthy’s work at the EPA.
“[W]e do have some current threats, but I don’t want people to be discouraged by that,” McCarthy said. “I think there is a lot of reason to be very hopeful that the United States is really on track, both in terms of what people want and where our energy needs are heading.”
McCarthy believes that a change in policy at the federal level is not going to take away the marketability of renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“Those things are winning in the market and we should be proud of that, celebrate it, but even if the federal government doesn’t want to, they’re not going to turn that around by a piece of paper that they sign,” she said. “We worked hard, we paid attention to the science and the law, we’ve made progress and they are not going to undo it easily.”
Nonetheless, McCarthy stressed that people who may feel anxious about the direction the EPA is taking under the new administration need to be active.
“Active citizenry and participating in your government is the most important thing you can do, and I think it’s your obligation,” she said. “Go to the marches that are coming out, show your support for science, show your support for climate action and we’ll keep moving forward.”
McCarthy explained during her talk that the government has gotten very good at getting rid of visible pollution, which gives some people the false impression that the job is done.
“We’ve gotten to the visible stuff, but we also know from looking at science that there is so much left to do,” she said. “It is not the time to be backing up or standing still.”
Yet McCarthy acknowledged that there are still places in the country that deal with visible pollution.
“We call those environmental justice communities. And until everyone in this country shares in the benefits of the work that we do, we are not done,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”
As for the new administration, McCarthy acknowledged that her work under the Obama administration is one of the main targets of the Trump administration as it tries to roll back regulations.
“It is not just an attack on the standards, it is an all-out attack on the agency itself,” she said.
She attributes this attack on the EPA to the new administration’s belief that the economy and the environment are at odds, an approach that she strongly rebuked.
“What I understand from listening to both President Trump and [EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt] is that they believe in that old, outdated and unfounded view that there is an inherent conflict between economic growth and environmental protection,” she said. “There is just no way that there is a shred of proof that you can’t continue to clean up the world we live in, and make it a nice … and safe place to live and grow good jobs.”
In addition, McCarthy spoke about how she believes the Trump administration is disregarding and attacking science.
“They’re subordinating science in favor of delivering on expedient campaign rhetoric, which I don’t appreciate. They have a lack of transparency, a lack of public process and a disrespect for the courts, and a misread on the needs and wishes and expectations of American families who really know that clean air, water and land are our core values,” McCarthy said. “They are misreading in thinking that they can get away with this.”
McCarthy told the Daily that it is critical to address these environmental issues in a bipartisan way because they affect everybody.
“Let’s try to talk about the environment in terms that are not triggering partisan conflict, but are really expressing our common value that we place as a country in clean air and clean water,” she said. “Because in the end, that’s what it’s all about – it’s about protecting our kids from pollution and keeping those precious natural resources in the quality and quantity we need to continue to live well. And that’s a value to everyone.”