New EPA Chief Nails It

Bill Scher
New EPA Chief Nails It

Above is the first speech from Gina McCarthy since Republicans stood down from filibustering her nomination to head the EPA. You can see why Republicans didn’t want her. She’s that good. Climate politics is extremely dicey for Democrats. As I’ve long noted, many swing states are coal and oil states, and many of those states are represented by Democrats in the Senate. Fear that a cap on carbon will kill jobs is intense. There is a reason why climate legislation could not glide through Congress even when Democrats had a 60-vote Senate majority. With no more campaigns in front of him, President Obama is taking advantage of his increased latitude to direct his EPA to enact regulations that will cap carbon. Bypassing Congress has its advantages, namely, it means something can actually happen. But it has a big disadvantage. Without buy-in from Congress in those swing states, there is a greater chance of backlash giving Republicans big majorities in both houses of Congress. Then if a Republican grabs in the White House in 2016, Obama’s regulations won’t last very long. Which means Obama and his allies can’t forget about making the case for his climate plan, to mitigate the possibility of severe backlash. Fortunately, they’re not. Organizing For Action, the group headed by Obama’s former campaign team, has climate at the top of its “Action August” list, alongside immigration and guns, of issues on which to pressure Congress and avoid letting the Tea Party dominate any local town halls during the congressional summer recess. Interestingly, OFA is taking a “pro-science” tack encouraging members to “call out” congresspeople who are climate science deniers. OFA is not expecting the grassroots to make a policy-heavy argument about how protecting the climate is a critical component for any jobs strategy: ensuring America remains globally competitive by taking the lead in growing clean energy industries. That task is being led by EPA Administration McCarthy. And yesterday she did it spectacularly. First, she succinctly debunked the zombie lie that regulations kill jobs.

… between 1970 and 2011, emissions of air pollutants dropped 68 percent while the U.S. domestic product grew 212 percent. And the U.S. population at the same time grew 52 percent. What you really want to grow, grew. What you really want to go down, went down … And while EPA, states, tribes, and local communities were all accomplishing together these major health improvements, as the law intended and the science demanded, total private sector jobs increased by 88 percent. Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs, please?

Then, she framed the climate threat as primarily economic, not environmental — which is key because most people’s immediate concern is the economy today and not the environment tomorrow:

We need to feed the economic agenda of this country. We have to move beyond all those old discussions about how there’s no inherent conflict between the environment and the economy. How many times have we said that? We really need to recognize that the future, our future, my children’s future, depends on an economy that moves beyond that dichotomy issue and that recognizes that the limitations of world’s resources are real, the fragility of the world’s ecosystems are real, the threats posed by pollution and a changing climate are real, and that 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, public health. We need the economy to serve the needs of current and future generations. That’s where jobs will grow … … Today the truth is that we need to embrace cutting carbon 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 talk about this positively. Let’s approach this as an opportunity of a lifetime because there are too many lifetimes at stake to not embrace it this way… You know, I listened with a little bit of dismay, but perhaps no real surprise, following the President’s Georgetown address that some of the folks were sort of criticizing him and belittling the speeches, really some ancillary environmental issue … rather than focusing on the economy. Hello. Climate change isn’t an environmental issue. It is a fundamental economic challenge for us.

And just in case you were worried she was speaking too abstractly, she made clear how an out-of-control climate harms the economy:

I am quite sure that following Hurricane Sandy, nobody looked at a hurricane as an environmental challenge, they looked at it as an economic devastation. They looked at it as storm that took lives and prevented other people from living their lives the way they had before. That’s what Sandy was, New York knows it, New Jersey knows it, Connecticut knows it.

So we know that as the climate rulemaking process moves forward, it will have a spokesperson that will put jobs at the center of the discussion, completing Obama’s recent efforts to get the national debate back on jobs. That’s where the focus needs to be.