Gina McCarthy talks carbon, climate and methane with EDF

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EPA administrator Gina McCarthy with EDF president Fred Krupp and 71,000 of our members on the phone.

71,000 EDF members and activists joined EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Wednesday night for a live telephone town hall meeting with EDF president Fred Krupp, discussing topics ranging from carbon pollution standards to natural gas to the importance of taking your kids outside to play.

Fueled by incisive questions from our incredibly well-informed members, the town hall turned out to be a rich and entertaining experience – not just two wonks talking environmental policy. For someone with a sterling reputation as a non-partisan policy expert, Gina McCarthy also has the political skills and endearing warmth of a big city mayor. She once said, in her thick Dorchester, Massachusetts accent, that there was “nothing cooler” than getting to yell, "Play ball!" at a Red Sox game. A different career choice earlier in life and she’d be riding snow plows and hugging her constituents instead of spending her days working on behalf of public health and a stable climate.

The event took place fewer than 24 hours after President Obama’s State of the Union address, and gave the Administrator the chance to expand on the President’s environmental and energy agenda for the coming year. In the speech, the President highlighted his 2013 commitment to put the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, a responsibility that falls to Administrator McCarthy and her staff. Given that power plants are the No. 1 source of climate pollution in the U.S. --and that these rules are already under attack -- it was inspiring to hear her talk about this historic action.

McCarthy said her agency plans to unveil rules that are “flexible enough” to allow each state to adopt carbon reduction strategies that meet their needs. She explained that carbon pollution limits are part of “transitioning the energy world” by encouraging power producers to move toward less polluting technologies and renewable energy. She sees EPA’s role as helping to “make that transition happen more quickly” while ensuring that our electric power system is affordable and reliable.

The Administrator also warned of significant obstacles ahead. She said “those who want to confuse the issue” will be pushing hard to undermine these rules, and that we will again see “climate denial rear its head.” She asked EDF members to fight back by talking about the issue with their neighbors and submitting comments as part of the EPA rulemaking process. Winning, she said, is “all about the grassroots.”

Listen to our tele-town hall with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy



McCarthy said the Obama Administration refuses to “sit around and wait” while Congress refuses to act on climate change. But it was also clear she and the President see executive actions as only a first step. She called climate change a “global problem that needs a global solution.”

McCarthy is particularly passionate about the health impacts of climate change, saying “people don’t realize [it] is the biggest challenge we face from a public health point of view,” pointing to high asthma rates. She described how warmer temperatures lead to more ozone, which causes more frequent and severe asthma attacks.

Administrator McCarthy also talked about natural gas and methane pollution (methane, the main component of natural gas is a greenhouse gas more than 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timespan). After Fred Krupp noted that the President recently told The New Yorker magazine that failing to handle our natural gas boom correctly would create a “profound” methane pollution problem, McCarthy said the President had ordered her and other environmental officials to develop a “methane strategy.” She noted that the EPA has already issued new rules on so-called “green completions”—a way to capture methane emissions from natural gas wells at the end of the hydraulic fracturing process—but “that’s not where we’re going to stop.” She said EPA would also be looking at the issue of natural gas that leaks from oil wells. McCarthy called methane “an intense pollutant…we need to get at.”

It was clear from the discussion that McCarthy is determined to carry out her mandate under the Clean Air Act to limit pollution that harms the climate. It also sounded as if – for both McCarthy and the President – it is an issue about which they have strong personal feeling as parents. Perhaps her most passionate moment was a call for other parents to get their kids to play outside, introduce them to the natural world, and create the next generation of environmentalists.

Toward the end of the call, one EDF member called McCarthy a “feather in the nation’s cap” because of her expertise, political savvy and down to Earth manner. And she made clear that the feeling was mutual, saying, “Without groups like EDF, our ability to really move our mission forward would simply not be as possible as it is today. And it’s not me who recognizes it; the President himself clearly knows that.” Thanks to the deep engagement of EDF members, and the leadership of public officials like Gina McCarthy, America has the opportunity to win historic environmental victories in 2014. For the tens of thousands who dialed in Wednesday night, that was an inspiring thing to realize: activists really can make a difference. We honestly can’t do it without you.

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Sam Parry

Sam Parry

Sam is Environmental Defense Fund's director of online membership and activism.

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Comments

I really like this article, it was very interesting. I think EDF is doing a great job. Congratulations.

Thank you for this report. I received the invitation call and was told that I would be called again on the night of the conference call. (I assumed a robo thing would be set up to call.) I waited and did not receive a call (didn't realize until I read this that I was supposed to call in.) I think it is fantastic that you set up the call and absolutely want to be invited again so I can call in. I am having computer trouble trying to access the sound track. I need to find a computer geek to get me in--feel determined to hear the whole thing.

Fracking, tar sands development, keystone pipeline, and new nuclear power plants aren't the way to "energy independence". Conservation, wind, solar and other non-polluting technologies are all that stand between a stable and destroyed future of this planet. As much as independence, there is a huge need to work with other countries regarding energy in a peaceful, concerted way.

My husband and I testified on January 16 at a PA public hearing on proposed resolutions for gas and oil surface activities. We took issue with the vague language in proposals, with the lack of a remediation fund for disaster cleanup, for methan leakage, for despoiled wells, for poor oversight, for countless violations but token penalties, for proposed use of acid mine drainage for fracking, while absolving mineowners from liability if they wreak harm when they use it. We noted the WVA spill as a cautionary tale for PA. Dangerous is this industry's exemption from the Clean Water Act. The chemicals in the millions of gallons of water used in fracking is frightening as there is currently no means for de-toxifying that water properly. There are still instances of this stuff wrongly being discharged into our waterways and our elected officials are thinking of giving violaters 2 years to fix it while they will permit our waters to continue to be poisoned during that time. Also there is no extraction tax levied on mine owners in PA. We are the only state that has not done this. Coal mine companies left our state terribly wounded when they departed decades ago and we are still dealing with the serious damage they dod. Do we not learn from history?

I missed the actual conference call, but have just listened to the sound track of it and – It was wonderful! Super informative and reassuring. Thank you for presenting it! I want to be invited to any future calls like this. If I’d been on the call, I would have raised the following issues:

I was pleased to hear Gina McCarthy describe her appreciation of small organic gardening as a green job. One of the greatest ways to address climate change is to develop small local business like co-ops and small organic farms. These use far less fossil fuel and do not have interest in transnational trade which requires fossil fuel shipping. And they do not use the vast amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels. When done right, animal fertilizers get recycled back to enrich the soil and raise healthy, clean food.

I think that trans-national trade needs to be trimmed down, not developed. It further pumps up the giant corporations that have far too much power already, the ones that are immune to regulation, that suck the profits out of the countries, and stir up seeds of war as they smother small business with unfair competition in foreign countries as well as our own country. I am not suggesting they vanish—just that they now have power way out of proportion to the rest of society and they are abusing it violently, and steps must be taken to rein that in.

In promoting fracking, even methane-free fracking, the pollution of vast amounts of precious water is being overlooked. It is great to hear that methane produced by agriculture is being addressed. But the waste of pure water that happens in all forms of fossil fuel extraction is a very serious concern. I fear for the water of 15 million people in the Delaware watershed from fracking operations that crack the rock below the water table. There is NO WAY that the frack wells can be guaranteed not ever to contaminate the water. All wells disintegrate eventually—maybe many years from now, but “never” is impossible. It is morally reprehensible to risk the water of 15 million people and should not be considered as an option, ever.

Desalination of salt water may help humans but it does nothing for wild life and the wildlife matters too. We need not to think that is the solution. GOOD for your answer—we need to preserve our water.

Tunneling tar sands crude across our country is a terrible black eye on our climate concerns. It is substantially for export, not needed here, and the pipeline should be flatly and proudly rejected. I love that Gina McCarthy said several times that this is a world issue. If we export fossil fuels we are polluting ourselves.

I am utterly passionate about the environment, and I do talk about these things with anybody beside me—on the bus, or train, or doctor’s office, or grocery store—everywhere I go. This phone call was very encouraging. God bless your work! And I thank God for both of you, Gina McCarthy and Fred Krupp!

I listened today Wed 2/4 and i was very impressers with our epa administrator and i want to take action that eda puts out for us