President Obama has nominated Gina McCarthy to replace Lisa Jackson as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. McCarthy is seen as strong choice by environmental leaders—the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environment America, Sierra Club and others have released statements endorsing her, referencing her years of support for strong environmental policies under Republican leadership. McCarthy is currently the head of the EPA’s clean air division, where she helped to craft regulations concerning mercury and soot emissions from power plants. Prior to her work at the EPA, she was head of Connecticut’s EPA and, before that, she worked under five governors in Massachusetts as an environmental and health official, including Gov. Mitt Romney. While she has absorbed some of the criticism lobbied at Jackson’s EPA from conservative leaders who are wary of the agency’s recent regulatory bent, McCarthy has also cultivated relationships with industry leaders.
Donna Harman, president and chief executive of the American Forest and Paper Association, told the Washington Post that McCarthy is “very data- and fact-driven, and that’s been helpful for us as well as the entire business community. It doesn’t mean I always got what I was looking for, but we can have a dialogue.”
Jackson stepped down as EPA administrator last month and had a contentious tenure marked by accusations of secrecy, complaints from the right that her policies were hurting the economy and from the left that they didn’t go far enough to protect public health and curb global warming emissions.
Jackson admits that she did not reach out enough to rural Americans, allowing rumors to take on a life of their own, such as one fictitious, widely circulated rumor that the EPA wanted to regulate cow flatulence. “If I were starting again, I would from day one make a much stronger effort to do personal outreach in rural America,” Jackson told Reuters. “Had I known that these myths about everything from cow flatulence to spilled milk could be seen as ‘The EPA is coming to get you,’ I would have spent more time trying to inoculate against that.”
To that end, McCarthy’s built-in respect among the business community is seen as a huge asset, though she will still have to convince skeptical Republican lawmakers that she walks a balanced line. Major environmental issues she’ll have to tackle include regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, tightening restrictions on methane emissions from fracking for natural gas and updating pollution regulations under the Clean Air Act.
She’s already proven that regulating emissions and growing the economy don’t need to be mutually exclusive. McCarthy played a major role in Connecticut’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative which cut pollution from power plants in nine states while bringing in $1.4 billion to the region, saving more than $1.3 billion in energy costs and creating 16,000 jobs.
Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC writes on her blog: “Congress charged the EPA with the duty of listening to the best science and reducing dangerous pollution. We can rely on McCarthy to honor that duty.”