By Charlene Porter
Environmental protection is good for the economy and creates jobs, according to decades of national experience. The United States’ new top environmental officer says those facts should end the nation’s decades-long debate on a “false choice” — the assertion that environmental protections inhibit economic growth.
Delivering her first major speech since being sworn into the position, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said many policies implemented in the past have produced a cleaner, more prosperous nation.
“Today, the truth we need to embrace is that cutting carbon pollution will spark business innovation, will grow jobs, and will strengthen the economy,” McCarthy said, while speaking at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
She cited the stricter fuel-economy standards set for auto manufacturing by the Obama administration in 2011. Car makers responded by increasing mileage-per-gallon in new vehicles and lowering their carbon emissions. The result was a product more attractive to consumers, McCarthy said, and a boost in U.S. auto sales.
The auto industry was on “the brink of collapse” four years ago, McCarthy said, but now the Center for Automotive Research, an independent research organization, predicts the industry will add 35,000 jobs in 2013. She added that the Wall Street Journal said the industry “is emerging as an ‘export powerhouse,’ with more than 1 million cars and light trucks exported from U.S. auto plants.”
The stricter auto standards are one of the Obama administration’s key actions so far to lower greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. In the last several years, the EPA has also taken action to reduce mercury pollution, fine particle pollution and emissions of soot, sulfur dioxide and other toxic materials, McCarthy noted, calling this one of the “most productive times in the agency’s [40-year] history.”
These actions are part of an administration climate-change strategy, announced in June, taking the nation’s most assertive actions ever to address planetary warming trends, overwhelmingly confirmed by the world’s scientific community.
McCarthy offered a full-throated endorsement of the Obama challenge that everyone should help to expand homegrown energy sources while also reducing emissions.
“That way we would protect our kids’ health and begin to slow the effects of climate change — leaving a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations,” McCarthy said.
President Obama appointed McCarthy in 2009 to be assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. She came to federal environmental regulation after decades working on the same issues at the local and state levels. As a former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, McCarthy salutes the leadership some U.S. states have shown to increase energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop new opportunities for economic growth.
More than half the states have set their own energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, the environmental official said. “And over 1,000 mayors across the country have signed agreements to cut carbon pollution in their cities.”
Despite the longstanding political debate about whether environmental controls hamper business and suppress economic growth, McCarthy quotes statistics dating back to the earliest years of EPA regulatory authority that demonstrate the two objectives can be achieved simultaneously.
Emissions of common air pollutants have dropped almost 70 percent since 1970, when the EPA was created. National economic growth exceeded 200 percent over the same period. A steadily growing population drove ever more vehicle miles through those decades, McCarthy said. “So, the bad things went down while the good things went up.”
Further analysis has shown that cleaner air achieved through stronger regulation prevents hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and millions of cases of respiratory illness.
While national and state environmental policies have been key to achieving these health improvements, McCarthy called on a wider coalition of business and community leaders, activists, scholars and scientists to step up to the 21st-century challenge of climate change and help the nation achieve a cleaner and more prosperous future.
Reducing emissions from carbon-based fuels and from electricity-generating plants is a hallmark of the strategy President Obama announced in June. The plan also calls for U.S. leadership in helping other countries already facing adverse consequences of climate change.