Science Policy & Funding News

EPA Head Calls Climate Change Biggest Threat to U.S. Progress

McCarthy says that despite anxiety at the agency about the election results, she is confident in EPA’s work and that efforts to control climate change will continue.

By

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had a tough message yesterday for incoming president Donald Trump, some of his advisers who are on record as denying climate change, and his early cabinet picks.

“Science tells us that there is no bigger threat to American progress and prosperity than the threat of global climate change,” McCarthy said in a speech Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D. C.

She admitted that there is some anxiety within the agency since Trump’s election earlier this month. However, McCarthy said, “The train to a global clean energy future has already left the station.” So, she said, the United States has a choice. “We can choose to get on board and to actually provide leadership, or we can choose to be left behind to stand stubbornly still.”

McCarthy strongly defended the EPA for its work in many areas, including reducing mercury pollution from power plants, helping to bolster the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and cleaning up water bodies, including the Great Lakes.

Clean Power Plan as a Turning Point in Climate Leadership

McCarthy also expressed some confidence in the continued pollution reduction efforts of the EPA, which has come under attack from Republicans. The agency is overseeing a number of regulations and initiatives, including the Clean Power Plan (CPP) to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Trump said in September that he would scrap the CPP.

McCarthy said that people talk about the CPP “like it’s a driving force behind the country’s transition to clean energy. The reality is that those folks give us too much credit. [The plan] is designed to follow the clean energy transition that was already underway.”

She added that “history will show that [the plan] marked a turning point in American climate leadership, a point where our country stepped up to the plate and delivered and the rest of the world followed us” in supporting measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stave off the worst potential outcomes from climate change.

McCarthy said that other countries now wonder about U.S. commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change following the recent election. “Now, [other countries] wonder if the United States will turn its back on science and be left behind.”

Anxiety at the Agency Since the Election

McCarthy acknowledged in her speech that “there is a lot of anxiety these days” since the election. Trump has said that he is somewhat of an environmentalist, but he also has called climate change a hoax. He has stated that he would reverse a number of President Barack Obama’s executive orders related to climate change and other issues.

The person Trump tapped as his transition lead for EPA, Myron Ebell, has been called a climate change skeptic. In a video statement released yesterday that outlined plans for the first 100 days in office, Trump said, “On energy, I will kill job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs.”

During an interview with the New York Times today, Trump reportedly said that “there is some connectivity [between human activity and climate change]. Some, something. It depends on how much.” During that same interview, in response to whether Trump would have the United States withdraw from climate change accords, he reportedly said, “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.”

Despite the anxiety at the agency since the election, McCarthy said that she is “very confident in the work we’ve done.”

McCarthy, who has not yet been contacted by Trump’s transition team, added, “I am looking forward to a smooth transition and getting folks in here so they can see the breadth of the work in the agency and how well we have done our job.” The new administration takes office in less than 9 weeks.

Hope for an Enduring Legacy

Energy expert Frank Maisano, who attended the speech, told Eos that McCarthy has been “a great administrator” who has been a good advocate on environmental issues. “We don’t always agree with [EPA], but we appreciate the positions she has taken at times,” said Maisano, a principal at the Policy Resolution Group at Bracewell, a Washington, D. C.–based law and government relations firm serving the oil and gas, power, and other industries.

“In reality, there’s a new administration coming in, and I’m sure they are going to go in a completely different direction,” Maisano said. “But I think that a lot of things that EPA stands for will still be there with a new administration.”

In her speech, McCarthy said she believes that efforts to mitigate climate change will continue on many levels, despite what the next administration may choose to do about the issue. For example, she noted that thousands of mayors have signed pledges to act on climate change. “EPA has done, I think, over the past 8 years, a wonderful job looking at what the science is, what the facts are.”

Concerned citizens can also support this legacy, McCarthy added. “I think that folks should continue to speak if they disagree” about the government’s direction on climate change, she said.

“We have been successful over 5 decades in avoiding partisan politics as much as possible,” McCarthy stated. “It really doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat: You still want your kids to be healthy and the future to be sound.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), EPA head calls climate change biggest threat to U.S. progress, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO063439. Published on 22 November 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • drseismo

    EPA administrator Gina McCarthy’s says: “The train to a global clean energy future has already left the station.” Actually, she would have hard time finding a clean energy train to board today. In spite of the absence of definitive science-based support of an urgent need to issue more environmental regulations, the EPA appears to have embarked on a public relations campaign to sway public opinion to their side. The facts are that scientists now have neither the technology nor the database to forecast long term global climate accurately enough to effectively guide national energy policy decisions. Politics have replaced good science in in making policy decisions.

    Replacing oil and coal with reliable renewal energy sources to meet global energy demand may not be feasible for at least the next several decades. The option to choose a favorite renewable energy source over fossil fuels simply does not yet exist. The current policies of the EPA ultimately will decimate the petroleum industry and lead to higher energy costs and energy shortages. The EPA is on the wrong train track. A growing body of scientists worldwide now predicts that the global temperature over the next several decades may decline, in which case, current policies would be diametrically opposite from the right policies. The message should be to get the science right first
    before wasting trillions of dollars of the nation’s wealth. We can only hope that the current politicization of the EPA will finally end with the new administration.

  • tolo4zero

    What she really means is the EPA’s efforts to control the progress of the political direction in the US.

  • davidlaing

    No. First, let me state that as a scientist, I have no political objective or alliance whatever, but the fact is that there is simply no evidence that carbon, or its dioxide, is actually a pollutant. The “science” of which EPA Administrator McCarthy speaks is unaccountably flawed in two respects:

    1) There is no hard-data-based evidence whatsoever supporting greenhouse warming theory. There has been plenty of work on absorption of infrared radiation by CO2, but that doesn’t mean that it causes warming. The theory of greenhouse warming has been elaborately developed and computerized, but of course theory alone without hard evidence means nothing. Climate science and the world at large has simply accepted a theoretical argument based largely on a rather poor recent correlation between a rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration and warming, but without hard evidence linking the two as cause and effect we might just as well assume that global warming is caused by the Dow Jones Industrial Average because both of them are going up. The connection is really that tenuous.

    2) There have been exactly two hard-data-based studies of greenhouse warming in the past 116 years, and both of them came to the same conclusion, that variations in atmospheric CO2 concentration have very little effect on temperature. The first was done by Knut Angstrom in 1900, and the second was done by an Earth scientist who was alarmed at the lack of proper hard evidence for greenhouse warming theory (i.e., me) in 2015 (Please Google “Interesting Climate Sensitivity Analysis” to access my study, and decide for yourself. Comments welcome, of course,).

    I see this as probably the greatest misuse of improperly tested science for political ends in modern times and a very real test of the integrity of the scientific process. In the end, Earth will show who is right, as it always does, and climate trends show that we are now returning to what has been presumptuously called the “global warming hiatus” or “pause.” Cries of “the science is settled!” won’t be able to change that, but we CAN change the unfortunate political consequences of a wholly unsupported scientific conclusion.

    • Bogdan

      If you are scientist you should be able to make a difference between “allegiance” and “alliance”.

      Regarding the hiatus, for your information we just had the 10 warmest years on record in the last 12 years and 2016 was the warmest on record so far. We will never for under 400 ppm in CO2 concentration, which we have on that in a few million years and the rate of CO2 increase is a few hundred times higher than any recorded directly or through proxies.

      The rest of what you wrote is ,therefore, irrelevant.

      • davidlaing

        Bogdon, ad-hominem remarks such as the one in your first sentence are usually resorted to by those who aren’t really up to speed on the issue concerned.

        The fact that temperatures during the long “hiatus” (called that as if Earth had done something wrong with respect to our ironclad computer projections!) were the highest on record doesn’t mean that they followed the projections of the predictive models. In fact they were many times lower. Please read my study. It shows that ozone destruction by anthropogenic chlorine from CFCs is a highly likely source of warming. It works by allowing more solar UV-B to reach Earth, and UV-B is 48 times more intense that Earth’s infrared radiation that supposedly causes warming. If Chlorine is really the culprit, the reason that global temperatures are still elevated is that chlorine destroys ozone catalytically, and so it has a long residence time in the stratosphere. It should take at least until mid-century before temperatures return to “normal.”

        As for 400 ppm CO2, if you look at the geologic record, CO2 concentration has been as much as 5000 ppm within the past 600 million years without any evident effect on temperature. In fact CO2 shows very little correlation with temperature during this long interval. Both CO2 and temperature happened to increase together from 1975 to 1998 (the period of my analysis), and people committed to greenhouse warming theory said “See? I told you so!” but there are two problems with this: 1) correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, and 2) in other time intervals, including the “hiatus,” there is no such correlation.

    • John Micah Bakies

      This man is a troll. You can Google search images “Keeling Curve Carbon” and get a graph for the carbon measurements. You can Google search images “NOAA temperature measurements” and get a see the graphs that show atmospheric carbon increases correlate with the carbon increase. You can also Google search and get a graph of the 800,000 year record of atmospheric carbon gained from ice cores. How is it that the known heat trapping gas CO2 increases the atmosphere and then the temperatures start going up? And how is it that the CO2 in the atmosphere has not been this high in the past 800,000 years, and beyond. Why have the oceans turned acidic and coral reefs started dying? Why is all the ice melting? You are the scientist. If the highest levels of the heat trapping gas carbon in the atmosphere is not responsible for trapping heat and causing the temperature increases then what is causing it? Are we to believe the earth is flat and that our cutting down forests that absorb carbon and burning carbon for the last 100 years has not caused this? Every other potential cause has been ruled out. But you are the scientist. Please tell us what is causing it. I think you are just a troll sent to sew the seeds of doubt.