Weekly Comment:
Obama and McCarthy Announce Clean Power Plan

Gina McCarthy and President Obama in the East Room of the White House on March 4, 2013, when Obama named McCarthy
as the new director of the EPA. This week, Obama and McCarthy announced the strictest regulations yet for curbing carbon
dioxide pollution in the U.S. The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through executive order.

By Adam Farley, Deputy Editor
August 7, 2015

On Monday, August 3, President Obama and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy released the final Clean Power Plan, a historic step in the Obama Administration’s fight against climate change. The regulations are the strongest yet unveiled by any U.S. administration and are a huge step to curbing what the President described as one of the greatest national security, economic, and healthcare problems the U.S. has faced.

“We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change. We’re the last generation that can do something about it,” Obama said in his speech at the White House.

“We only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no plan B.”

The Clean Power Plan, which Obama intends to implement through executive order, specifically seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, could prove to be a tough sell, but he has an effective leader in Gina McCarthy, the Boston-born Irish American who heads the nearly 16,000-strong EPA and has been working on the initiative since she was appointed Administrator in March 2013.

McCarthy’s thrust was to combat skepticism to climate change by arguing that it was a matter of public health.

“Right now one out of ten kids in the U.S. has chronic asthma,” she told Irish America editor-in-chief Patricia Harty when profiled for this magazine last August. “Hotter weather creates ground level smog that is very damaging to people with lung diseases and kids and the elderly who have trouble breathing. Higher temperatures result in more ozone, as well as longer allergy seasons. It will trigger asthma attacks and make them more difficult to manage. It also has significant impact on the cardiac system as well as the overall pulmonary system.”

In his speech, Obama, too, echoed that sentiment. “While we can’t say any single weather event is entirely caused by climate change, we’ve seen stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons. Charleston and Miami now flood at high tide. Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart,” he said.

“Over the past three decades, nationwide asthma rates have more than doubled, and climate change puts those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital.”

In that same interview, McCarthy discussed the genesis of the plan.

“A number of states, such as California and Connecticut, have already been very effective in reducing carbon pollution from the power sector as well as generating revenues for energy efficiency programs, which will keep those levels down,” she said.

“So when the President called on the EPA to do a rule that lowered carbon pollution we had all the data on actions that would be effective, reasonable, and practical. We built the Clean Power Plan on the backs of all of those states [that have reduced carbon pollution], recognizing that while they have done great work, there’s work that every state can do that would benefit that state and benefit us nationally and globally.”

Since then, McCarthy has been making appearances around the country in support of the president’s message. And her travel has contributed to a significant public shift in perception of the dangers of climate change, using any platform she can to spread awareness of the plan and the real impact of global warming.

Recently, she gave speeches at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Salt Lake City, the National Corn Growers Corn Congress in Washington, D.C., and appeared on Charlie Rose this week.

Speaking with Charlie Rose, she argued that in the past, climate change was thought of as a problem with no solutions, which led to inaction. “You know people know that there is hopefulness before they’re even going to admit there’s a problem,” she said. “If you give them a problem and there’s no solution, they’re going to pretend it’s not going to happen, or they stand still because they’re too afraid of it. We’ve been doing that for 25 or 30 years.”

“So I think what we see now is that we actually have solutions. And we’re actually being hit with the problem now. We can stand up and say in 2012, ‘We spent $120 billion that nobody budgeted for because of the impacts of climate.’ We are getting hammered already.” ♦


To read the whole August / September cover interview with EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy, click here.

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