“Let’s talk about [climate change] as the opportunity of a lifetime, because there are too many lifetimes at stake,” newly-confirmed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed during her speech on this past Tuesday at Harvard Law School, her first as head of the EPA. Addressing a crowd of nearly 300 faculty, students, environmental officials, and community members, Administrator McCarthy described how fighting climate change can spur the economy and noted the need for the federal government to partner with and follow the lead of state and local actors.
Throughout her address, Administrator McCarthy stressed the opportunities that preventing climate change offers, explaining that curbing greenhouse gases can help spark innovation, grow jobs and strengthen the economy. McCarthy urged consideration of climate change not as an ancillary environmental issue, but rather as a core economic challenge that must be faced head on. She expressed hope that the country’s dialogue can move beyond the false dichotomy of environmental protection versus economic growth, citing examples of cost-effective environmental initiatives such as the Clean Air Act, whose economic benefits outweigh its costs thirty to one, and the Brownfields Development Program, which leverages seventeen dollars of private financing for every dollar of EPA funding for cleanup and redevelopment activities.
Administrator McCarthy applauded state and local government environmental protection and climate change efforts, noting that EPA should and would follow state and local governments’ lead. She congratulated Massachusetts, Boston and Somerville on their environmental efforts, citing the cleanup of Boston Harbor as a major local environmental success. McCarthy stressed that EPA cannot and should not dictate solutions and instead must collaborate with state and local partners. McCarthy characterized her job as one of chief collaborator and explained, “I don’t think it is my job out of the gate to know what the path forward is. It is my obligation to let those voices be heard and listen to them.”
Throughout her speech, McCarthy was both realistic and ambitious. “It is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be hard,” she explained, in reference to finding solutions to the most pressing and complicated environmental issues of the day. She added, “climate change will not be resolved overnight, but it will be engaged over the next three years—that I can promise you.”
McCarthy was introduced by her daughter, Maggie McCarey, a Boston-area environmental professional who provided a personal portrait of Administrator McCarthy. Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow kicked off the remarks, lauding recent successes of the environmental community at the Law School, mentioning in particular the efforts of the Environmental Policy Initiative, the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and the Environmental Law Society.