EarthFix Conversation: Gina McCarthy, Head of the EPA, Talks Climate Change

May 22, 2014

Environmental Protection Agency Director Gina McCarthy is in the Northwest as part of her national tour to promote President Obama's Climate Action Plan.

McCarthy is also in the region to show support for state efforts to reduce carbon emissions. She visited with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and others at Seattle’s Bullitt Center Thursday before heading to Portland for a similar event Friday with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

At the Seattle meeting Inslee talked about the Seattle Seahawks’ recent visit to the White House.

Inslee has faced opposition from statehouse Republicans to his attempts to limit carbon dioxide emissions by creating a cap and trade or a tax system in Washington.

The EPA has not yet released any specifics about the new rule, but McCarthy sat down with KUOW’s EarthFix reporter, Ashley Ahearn, for a few questions.

Ashley Ahearn: President Obama’s in a very similar position to Governor Inslee when it comes to trying to get a price on carbon or a cap and trade system set up. Can Governor Inslee accomplish what he wants to accomplish without federal legislation to back him up?

Gina McCarthy: Well I think states have been doing a lot of work like this for a while. I think the position the president is in is building on that. It’s not about whether you do it at the state or federal level but you’ve got to address climate change. It is the biggest public health threat of our time and we need to do it now. And if we have an obligation under the clean air act to address pollution from power plants and we’ve addressed every other pollutant, why should carbon pollution be any different? Let’s just go at it in the same way.

For 40 years the Clean Air Act has been able to reduce air pollution by 70 percent while we’ve doubled our GDP. We know how to do this. If we just step back and look at climate change as a carbon pollution challenge we can make significant progress moving forward and if Congress wants to jump in and do something meaningful we’ll continue to work with them as well but there’s no reason to defer authorities that we’ve already been given by congress and using them appropriately.

Ahearn: So you’re talking about a federal law getting applied on the state level to help a governor like Jay Inslee accomplish what he wants to do.

McCarthy: That is exactly how 111D works. You establish a federal standard and it is then turned into carbon pollution reduction plans by the individual states and I think we can build on the work of the states and use that to launch a federal program that will really provide consistent emphasis and investment in the kinds of technologies that will keep this country competitive.

Ahearn: President Obama is stalling on a decision about Keystone XL and we’re looking at the potential for coal to be exported through the northwest and more oil coming every day by rail. What’s going to happen? What is going to happen by the end of this administration?

McCarthy: I think the president just recognized in his decision to tell the federal agencies, including EPA, to hold off on comments. He recognized that the pipeline is no longer set in stone and that for the agencies to be effective in commenting we need to see what happens with that area of pipeline that is now in question. I know that this is a decision by the State Department. As you know the president is engaged in these issues. He also has addressed Keystone within the framework of our climate action plan so he is committed to addressing the issue of climate change and he also is committed to making sure that we’re wrapping up the Keystone pipeline decision at the state in a way that provides the best input to State from all of the agencies. EPA has been commenting all along in a robust way. We’ll keep doing that and I’m confident that this decision will get made at the appropriate time.

Ahearn: The CO2 emissions though, from the fossil fuels that could move through this region are equal to, if not greater, than the Keystone Xl pipeline and what that would contribute to global CO2 emissions. Should we be exporting coal and oil through the Northwest?

McCarthy: Well thankfully that’s not a decision of EPA’s.

Ahearn: Dodged that one, Gina.

McCarthy: Yeah I know. We make sure we comment on this and we have on some of the coal exports but I am confident that this president understands, and his climate action plan says this is we’re looking at domestic mitigation measures to reduce the pollutants that cause climate change. We’re looking at climate resilience and keeping communities safe in the face of already changing climate and the third issue is we need additional leverage on the international front. So he will look at all those decisions in that context.

Ahearn: And finally, Red Sox this season?

McCarthy: Don’t judge yet. We’ll do just fine.

Copyright 2014 ERTHFX. To see more, visit .