WASHINGTON, D.C. – The EPA’s Gina McCarthy, a teacher from Boston, delivered one of the keynote addresses on repairing America’s infrastructure with green jobs Monday afternoon at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs annual conference, delivering the Obama administrations position before a new and powerful coalition of unions and environmentalists under the umbrella of the Blue Green Alliance. With more than 15 million members through 14 affiliated organizations, 10 unions and 4 major environmental groups, it is a growing political force to be reckoned with in Washington and around the country.
Where else can you find out what the head of the EPA is thinking at this critical time in our economic and environmental history?
Watch the Video
She taught in the public school for years and says she has pretty much been a “public servant” all her life.
“Whether it’s the teachers union or the steelworkers, the moral of the story is the same,” she said. “Our works and our family values have little meaning without fair protections that keep us all safe and healthy. Because at the end of the day, what is economic productivity worth if our water is too dirty to drink and our air is too dirty to breath. That principle drives EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment”
She said that mission continues to evolve.
“Times are changing,” she said. “Newer, cleaner energy frontiers are being explored. The threat of climate change is becoming more and more real to all of us.”
Climate impacts are not just hurting people, and the planet first and foremost. They are a threat to our economy.
“Do you know how much disasters cost us in 2012 alone?” she asked.
“One hundred and ten billion,” she said, the second highest year ever, all of it off budget.
“What could we do with $110 billion?”
She quoted the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, who has talked about the “terrible cost of inaction on climate.”
“He’s absolutely right,” she said.
He also said the nation that goes all in on innovation will own the global energy tomorrow.
“That what this president said, president Obama, in the State of the Union,” she said. “President Trumka, President Obama, know what they are talking about. They agree on these issues.”
That’s why we need to work together to explore creative approaches to meet our energy demands.
“We need to take action without sacrificing the health protections … jobs in our communities … or a reliable, affordable energy system.”
She also said it needs to be done with sensitivity toward the workers who brought affordable energy for decades. Many union workers are worried about their future as technology changes the energy economy, for example, from coal to natural gas.
That was done in the 1990s when the Clean Air Act was amended, a move with critics but supported by the United Steel Workers Union.
“The cynics at the time said that if we moved forward with amendments to the Clean Air Act it would destroy manufacturing,” she said. “But guess what? It didn’t. Those amendments will pay out 30 to 1 in economic and health benefits by 2020.”
So we know it’s never been about choosing the economy or the environment, she said. “It’s always been about choosing both.”
The EPA worked with the support of the United Autoworkers Union to pass tough new historic fuel economy standards.
“Those standards are slashing 6 billion tons of carbon pollution from our environment. That’s equal to the entire U.S. output in 2010. It’s saving families $8,000 at the pump over the life of those vehicles. It’s promoting energy independence by reducing oil consumption by 12 billion barrels,” she said. “And oh, by the way, we’re selling more fuel efficient American cars faster than ever before.”
Since Chrysler and GM emerged from bankruptcy in June, 2009, the auto industry has added 250,000 jobs, she said.
“That’s the best period of job growth in over a decade,” she said.
Over the past eight years, she said, “we’ve reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”
“So go figure,” she said. “An environmental rule helped fuel a resurgent auto industry. Everybody won in that scenario.”
She said she fully believes that when we work together, “the sky is the limit for the United States of America. And when we step forward to tackle climate change, we will be sure to win in all of these areas. Not just environmentally, but economically as well. We will win for the workers of this country, if we work together.”
EPA has also proposed a new carbon standard for new power plants that’s up for public comment now.
“We are on track to propose common sense standards for existing power plants in June,” she said. “We want to make sure the standards are flexible and will build on ongoing progress that’s already being made (in) states and cities.”
With a modernized power sector, she said, the federal government is going to encourage clean energy investments that expands domestic industries and secures good paying jobs in the United States while making sure there is space for a diverse fuel supply.
“We’ll protect public health and make sure folks are missing less work days, dealing with less medical bills and lost wages, and that our communities are safer and more resilient than they’ve ever before. We’ll help unleash the power of American innovation, and that innovation will spur the technologies and industries of the future that will keep the Unites States the envy of the world.”
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.