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.


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, Published on 22 November 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0