National Press Club

EPA Administrator Says Clean-Energy 'Inevitable' No Matter What Trump May Do

November 22, 2016 | By Lawrence Feinberg |

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy taking questions at a Nov. 21 NPC luncheon event.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy taking questions at a Nov. 21 NPC luncheon event.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Gina McCarthy, the outgoing Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, declared "the train to a global, clean-energy future has already left the station" and expressed confidence that it would not be derailed by the incoming Trump administration.

In a speech Nov. 21 at a National Press Club luncheon, McCarthy, who has headed the EPA under President Barack Obama since 2013, did not mention President-elect Donald Trump by name. But she said a transition to a low-carbon economy was "inevitable" because of the threat of global climate change. Trump has indicated skepticism about global warming and pledged to rescind EPA's Clean Power Plan and other major regulations.

"Science tells us that there is no bigger threat to American progress and prosperity than the threat of global climate change," McCarthy said. "The inevitability of our clean energy future is bigger than any one person or nation."

McCarthy said carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. electric power plants were 24 percent lower in 2015 than they had been a decade earlier. She said CO2 emissions had already met the goal that the Clean Power Plan set for 2022. The drop largely reflects the substitution of less expensive natural gas for coal.

Use of solar and wind power has also increased, McCarthy said. "People want it, they demand it," she said, "and clean-energy technology costs less than ever."

McCarthy praised Obama for providing leadership in shaping the Paris Agreement on limiting greenhouse gases that was negotiated in December 2015. Secretary of State John Kerry signed the agreement on behalf of the United States in April, contending it did not require Congressional ratification because it is not a treaty with binding enforcement mechanisms.

Trump has criticized the agreement as harmful to U.S. jobs and economic growth and said he will scrap the EPA rules designed to carry out its pledges.

But McCarthy said she thought state and local government action would continue to reduce carbon emissions. "I've worked at the state and local levels," she said. "You can't run away from people there, and people are really worried about the impacts of climate change."

"They are afraid of wild fires," she continued. "They are afraid of floods. They are afraid of running out of clean drinking water."

She said consumer demand is also causing many private firms to reduce energy use and "go green" in their products and buildings.

In response to questions, McCarthy said EPA was considering new safety rules on hydraulic fracking for natural gas and revised regulations for testing municipal water systems. She declined to say whether these measures would be issued before the Obama administration leaves office on Jan. 20.

McCarthy said EPA would continue "appropriate oversight as aggressively as we can" of drinking water in Flint, Michigan, which suffered from heavy lead contamination. She said she had learned from Flint's problems. "When it comes to drinking water," she said, "you put it in writing, and you make [EPA action] as tough as you can."

McCarthy's speech and the question period that followed were interrupted twice by shouted statements by persons at a central table in the audience. After the second interruption, McCarthy said, "That's a good example of how people continue to be passionate about clean water and clean air. It bodes well for the future of EPA."