A Conversation With Gina McCarthy

A Conversation With Gina McCarthy


BUSSEY: Well, welcome, everybody. Thanks for
coming out. I�m delighted�my name is John Bussey. I�m delighted to be here for The
Wall Street Journal. I�ll be talking with Gina McCarthy the administrator of the EPA
today. Here�s how the program will play out. We�ll
hear a few words from the administrator to begin with, and then we�re going to talk
for, you know, 10 or 15 minutes. Then I�d like to turn it over to questions and answers
from you. That�s always the most interesting part, I think, for any of these gatherings
at the Council. We have a few members of the press in the
back. I will be diligent in getting to you as well. Don�t be offended at all if I lean
a little bit more toward the members in picking them first to ask their questions. But we�ll
try to get everybody�s�we�ll try to get everybody�s questions answered.
I think we�re just as a fascinating moment in the environmental discussion and debate.
The Paris conference was, at a minimum, quite notable, many say historic, some say a little
bit more controversial in issues of implementation that still need to be resolved, but fascinating
no matter how you look at it. Gina McCarthy�s going to be here to explain to us what exactly
happened and what needs to happen now. This is going to be on the record. So if you
just kind of keep that in mind when you�re asking your questions. And if you could mute
your cellphones from the outset, that would be very helpful. And now, I�d like to turn
this over to Gina McCarthy. Please join me in welcoming her. (Applause.)
MCCARTHY: Hello, everyone. Happy new year. It�s great to be back again. John, thank
you for the introduction. I expect we�re going to have a great conversation. And I
want to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for inviting me here and for hosting the event.
I know that �25 (sic), at least, in many people�s views including my own, will go
down in history as quite a year. It was a year where we began significantly to turn
the tide on climate change. And there is no doubt, I think, in my mind and in many others
that that�s the case. And I�m also convinced that 2016 is not going to be a year where
we�re going to slow down. It is a year where we are going to keep building the momentum
on the basis of the historic year that�s gone past.
So last August the president announced our clean power plan at EPA. And it�s a historic
rule to cut domestic carbon pollution from our power plants. The reason why I�m mentioning
this in an international discussion is because last month in Paris, where nearly 200 countries
came together to announce a universal agreement on climate that I think is groundbreaking,
the clean power plan was one of the foundational issues that was brought up that allowed that
success to happen. Now, I am not saying that just because I want to give kudos to EPA,
although we did a great job. It was certainly a concerted effort. But it was also a concerted
effort to take a look at where the energy world and this country is heading, and to
work with those in the energy world that are both producing the energy, that are using
the energy, and those that are regulating it. And it was an opportunity for us to show
domestic leadership. And so the task really as to why it was successful
as opposed to alluding us like it has for the past years was really a result of three
things. And we can get into these in much more detail when we talk, but I�d like to
hit them a little bit. First of all, I think it was�and the inevitability of taking climate
action was quite clear. We did not hear from climate deniers at this meeting. We did not
hear any country saying that actions shouldn�t move forward. There was a certainty about
the inevitability of needing to act on climate and the immediacy of that need that was quite
palpable and very different. Secondly, it was about U.S. leadership. And
I can get into this a little bit more, but it was both the president�s leadership not
just in setting an aggressive domestic environmental agenda, but in his constant nurturing of this
issue over the past few years, so we went into Paris fully prepared for a deal, and
his work while we were in Paris. And it�s also the work across the administration. It
put U.S. back in a leadership position in a way that we have not been for quite some
time. And it allowed us to speak with a credibility and an energy that we hadn�t seen before.
So if you look at these issues, why do I know that there was certainty of action? When I
went to Paris, it was markedly different than any COP that I had ever been to, and I�ve
been to many�many of which I would rather have been home doing Christmas present shopping
than being there. It was�it was a positive level of energy that I don�t think any of
us had felt before. There was a collective motivation to come to a decision point here
that would really finally address an international effort that was commensurate with the challenge
that we were facing. Now, I spent a full week in Paris. Many thought
I shouldn�t or that was a long time. It proved to be a valuable opportunity for me
because I got to listen to that energy level, I got to talk to many countries, I got to
talk about in detail some of the issues relative to how you do a transparent system. How has
EPA done this similarly before with countries, and helped with that capacity-building exercise?
I also saw that there was a big difference in the way this meeting was handled. First
of all, we went into there with already 180 countries pledging commitments. That has not
happened before. And so when we stepped off the plane, it was different. We had in prior
years had the world leaders come at the end of the meeting instead of the beginning. This
time, it was the beginning. What that did was two things.
One is it allowed us to recognize the work that had already been done in the past year
by this president and others to get the largest world leaders and world economies to the table
in a serious way. But it also charted the course that the rest of us needed to follow.
That meant that every day after that was substantive instead of a preliminary discussion prior
to the world leaders speaking. It was a vastly different way of structuring this meeting,
and it resulted in vastly more substantive discussion, which shows in the language of
the agreement. Now, the other thing that became very clear, as I�ve said before, was the
leadership of the United States, and the fact that we were not just at the table, but we
were managing many of those discussions and putting them forward.
We know that president Obama made a big difference when he reached agreement with countries like
China, and with Brazil, and when he had such rigorous conversations with India. I know
in talking to all of those folks at the table that their job was to get an agreement. Their
job was to make good on those discussions, and it showed. I also know that one of the
challenges I had going in there was to make sure that I could articulate the domestic
agenda effectively. Well, one of the things I wanted to make sure that I talked about
was our clean power plan. Well, it turned out that I needed to do a lot less talking
than I thought because I had the utilities there doing that talking. That is quite a
change. They were the ones talking about their ability
to meet this, its consistency with the way in which investment is happening in the U.S.,
and how this is the direction that we need to take in order to get investment once again
in our energy infrastructure so that we can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
There was private sectors beyond the utilities that were already on board in making pronouncements,
including investments communities. This was an opportunity for us to double the research
capacity funding that we would make available from governments, but also to have the private
sector stand up and announce opportunities for investments in new technology because,
while this is a great agreement that we fully expect to produce terrific results, we know
that a lot more needs to be done. We know more solutions need to be driven to the table.
And the right people were around the table saying the only way we�re going to get those
investments is to get an agreement, is to keep moving forward, is to find an interagency
or international way I which we could work together to identify those new technologies,
to align those research efforts, and to figure out how developed and developing countries
could take advantage of that, not just to address climate, but to address the multitude
of environmental and economic challenges that face them, and integrate climate into those
efforts moving forward. So it was a wonderful meeting. I think I should
stop there, since I�m at my time limit. I think we should just take some questions,
but I�m happy to talk in detail about this. But 2016 will really be for EPA a tremendous
opportunity to move forward to continue with our commitments under the president�s climate
action plan to implement the clean power plan, which we can talk about. But we are also going
to have a heavy role supporting State in working on issues to bring this, the kind of detail
that you�re suggesting, to the table to make sure that this agreement is cast in stone,
the extent that we can, and provides that positive momentum moving forward.
We are quite sure that we will meet the president�s commitment domestically to move forward on
issues like our heavy-duty vehicle rule, HFCs, methane rules. We have a series of work that�s
going to continue, but we are not going to take the ball�our eyes off the ball of sharing
our expertise in supporting this international effort which, for the first time, has a framing
that could make it very successful. And we intend to get it there. So thanks very much,
everybody. (Applause.) Should I wear this on my head? (Laughter.)
BUSSEY: Well, thank you. So, I think that there�s been universal acclaim for this
many countries agreeing on anything, and that the headline numbers have been pretty positive.
But the criticism has been that the details are yet to be hammered out, enforcement. How
do you get there? How do you get to this goal to limiting temperature change to 2 degrees
Celsius, or less? Now, you certainly were part of discussions that got into those details.
Walk us through step by step, how does this now happen?
MCCARTHY: Yeah. Well, for those of the�for those folks that may have these concerns,
I don�t know whether I�d call them criticisms. There are limitations of what you can get
done in an international agreement. But this agreement is much more specific in terms of
how it must be carried out. It talks about coming back every five years to take a look
at goals and that every goal needs to be more aggressive than the one before. It outlines
a new capacity-building effort that I�m really engaged and interested in, which is
to make sure that developing countries can do the kind of work that provides that accountability
and transparency and will provide opportunities for them.
BUSSEY: Not just energy capacity, but the intellectual capacity.
MCCARTHY: That�s exactly right. And the technical capacity. You know, and so what
this actually does is it basically says that every country is going to have to meet standards
that look at providing a transparent accountability system. Now, anyone who�s done international
work knows that accountability is a big thing. Transparency is a big thing, because it�s
often the key driver to getting countries to do what they�re supposed to do. Most
countries hate to be the one that didn�t meet the goals that they articulated. And
that is a huge driver when you get into the international world.
And so what EPA does, and what we were doing at the conference and the convention, is to
basically outline what those steps might look like, and why they�re not just a measure
of accountability, but why it�s smart for developed and developing countries to do that.
And it�s exactly the same process that EPA has gone through with states in implementing
our national ambient air quality standards. It�s the same thing that we�ve been working
on with China on how you begin to address their air quality challenges. It�s not complicated.
Basically, it takes technical capacity, but the first thing you do is you do an inventory
of where your greenhouse gases are coming from. It�s amazing how bad we are at estimating
that before we look at it. And every country�s the same. We�ve done this with China. We�ve
taught them how to do inventories. And it never matches up where they think their emissions
are coming from because we all have a bias on where the bad things are and what the good
things are. That�s why for a long time we have to keep telling people that cars matter.
It�s not just the utilities, you know, because people just think things.
So you do an inventory, you look at what actions you take, this is what every state does when
they�re implementing a national ambient air quality standard, when they�re out of
attainment�do inventories, look at a range of actions, measure what those�analytically
measure what those might have as an impact, and then chart your path forward. And then
ever year you look at reconciling that, or every two years. That�s exactly what this
is all about. BUSSEY: Was that process reflected in the
background documentation of the agreement, or?
MCCARTHY: It�s in the agreement itself, and in the background. And the agreement itself
says� BUSSEY: Here�s what I�m going to do, is�
MCCARTHY: �that every two years every country is going to do a report that monitors their
success. And to do that report, you have to provide�you have to follow guidelines that
the IPCC has developed. And those guidelines say, what�s a good inventory? How do you
do this? The challenge for EPA is going to be continuing to work with other countries
to expand the capacity of the developing countries to be able to do this well. We have actually
spent a great deal of time in China doing this. We have actually detailed folks working
with State to different countries to actually embed people there who can teach this, to
get professional expertise there. And my job was to explain�when I was there,
at least, the job I took on was to explain to countries that this isn�t punishment,
this is opportunities here because if you can�t say where your greenhouse gases are
coming from, you are not going to be a market for technologies that can address them. You
are not going to be able to articulate where your research needs are for all of the research
dollars that have been just committed. It is a foundation for them to be able to put
their hand up and get the assistance they need, as well as develop a plan that just
might be consistent with where their economy needs to head, which is�which is, I think
essential. And for countries like China and India and
others, where we now have monitors that look at air quality and recognize the problems
they face, for them this is their opportunity to look at not just greenhouse gas reductions
but efforts to reduce those that can also have co-benefits, that have direct public
health benefits. BUSSEY: And growth benefits.
MCCARTHY: That�s exactly right. BUSSEY: You�ve made�this is the argument
you were making, right, that business is leaving Beijing because you can�t breathe the air,
which isn�t good for business and growth in China. But at the end of the day, is it
naming and shaming? I mean, this is, after all, a lot of countries with very disparate
objectives, personal objectives. And it�s hard to get agreement in even a smaller group.
At the end of the day, is the naming and shaming process that�s going to happen every two,
five years in those meetings that happen, is that the�is that the stick that the agreement
has? MCCARTHY: No, I�the agreement isn�t enforceable.
The goals themselves are flexible. So all of these transparency and reporting mechanisms
are agreed to. So those will move forward. I don�t think it�s just a naming and shaming.
I think as you build capacity in countries to look at this, they�ll see the opportunities
that the U.S. is beginning to see in terms of what are the solutions out there that can
not just address climate, but build jobs moving forward? This is all about shifting to a clean
economy. And that is not punishment. That�s simply being smart about the future and where
you can head. BUSSEY: So the economy was already slowing�global
economy was slowing for the last couple of years. That must have factored into some of
the discussions. How does that factor into the discussion? If the Indian economy drifts
lower, China�s�it�s already happening in China, isn�t the temptation to fire up
that coal plant, get those factories humming, have jobs so that there�s not torches and
pitchforks in the streets? MCCARTHY: Well, I would suggest that seems
to be the natural instinct everywhere�(laughs)�until you figure out whether or not that�s where
you want your economy to head. And having those discussions is where we are right now.
I mean, we�re certainly going to look at how we expend money that dedicate to this
effort internationally and try to make sure that that the gut instinct to do that isn�t
all you look at. There are countries that are clearly trying
to move themselves out of poverty. You would expect them to take every opportunity available
to them. The challenge for us to make other opportunities available to them. It�s to
really bring opportunities and options to them that allow them to choose something that�s
more sustainable, and hopefully leapfrog over some of the issues that we�re dealing with
now. BUSSEY: But when you sat across the table
from India, how did you answer that question? One-point-one billion people, poverty�or
even China still�you know, half the population is still rural. Only half has urbanized. They
got a long way to go. How did you answer that question when the said, look, at a certain
point we�ve just got to face facts? We�ve got to keep people employed?
MCCARTHY: You know, the way to think about this, John, is that at this meeting the one
other thing that was very different, and that I think led to the lack of naysayers in terms
of climate change action, was the fact that India recognizes that it�s on the frontline
of disasters and that it is going to be significantly hard-hit in a changing climate. So it�s
not all as cut and dried as do we want jobs or don�t we want jobs. It�s about what
do you do to protect your population at the same time. And so the clarity around climate
and climate adaptation was really high. There was a lot of discussion of how do we support
climate adaptation, given the change that�s already happening.
And so it really isn�t as easy for these countries to choose to continue to put limited
resources into things that are going to contribute to the future disasters. It�s not that simple
anymore. And so they are recognizing that they have to put people to work, but they�re
also recognizing now that there are opportunities for that that don�t rely on the same old
technologies. BUSSEY: So the agreement talked about a big
investment in that technical capability, as well as other type of investment. And yet,
there has been previous promises of investment by the developed countries to help the developing
countries along that has never really materialized. Why would it materialize now, but previously
it did not? MCCARTHY: Well, we�ve already made some
additional commitments. I mean, I know that President Kerry (sic) came in and he announced
that we were doubling our adaptation funds. And we also had a number of countries that
have gotten together to invest in a new program that�s doubling everybody�s research dollars.
So government is stepping up. What�s very different now is the private sector stepping
up. There was a clear understanding that this isn�t just government�s challenge. This
is an impact on business that�s already being felt. And international businesses were
there in force. I met with the CEOs of many of those. They are meeting with other countries
and talking about this challenge. BUSSEY: And what were they discussing? Opportunities
for them to build out windfarms, or what? MCCARTHY: Opportunities to not make it worse
by looking at mitigation strategies like that, but also talking about adaptation strategies,
because water�s becoming a problem everywhere. You know, not just water quality but quantity.
Flooding�s becoming difficult. Impact on agriculture is becoming something that�s
much better recognized and is beginning to filter its way into business decisions and
impacts. And so it really isn�t�it was great to see that the understanding of climate
wasn�t just about how do we reduce greenhouse gases in a vacuum just because the future
demands it, as opposed to looking at this as a concerted economic strategy, recognizing
that you are going to live in a carbon-constrained world. It was a different conversation entirely.
And that�s because it wasn�t all government led.
BUSSEY: So I want to get to the clean power plant in a moment, but on the topic of the
U.S. being in a leadership position at this event�in part because of agreements previously
reached, the tailwind that you had going in, the agreement with China for example�what
else now does the U.S. need to do to maintain that leadership role and to expand its own
objectives? The president�s talked about cutting carbon by 26, 28 percent by 2025,
compared to 2005. What else is politically�what else should the U.S. be committing itself
to, and that is politically possible in this country?
MCCARTHY: Yeah. Well, as you may know, EPA does our greenhouse gas inventory and does
our reporting on how well we�ve done. And so we�re going to keep looking at bringing
more expertise to that. John, there�s uncertainty around all this. And we have to keep looking
at how we get these numbers right for ourselves and for other countries. So we�re going
to keep looking at the science around this and the analytics, but we are also going to
be implementing many of the initiatives that the president identified, those that he identified�that
the U.S. has put in as the basis for our goal-setting exercise. We�re going to make sure those
move forward. And we�re going to keep, over the next year, looking at other opportunities.
It�s very clear that we�re not going to get everywhere we need to go. No country�s
put a plan that�s going to get them there. So we have to keep looking. For EPA, it�s
looking at how we push the envelope on heavy duty vehicles. It�s getting a Montreal Protocol
amendment and doing continued work on looking at hydrofluorocarbons and moving those out
of the system or reducing those so that the impact is not as large as it has been. We�re
going to keep looking at methane, oil and gas, and looking at whatever opportunities
in that sector are available to us to begin to explore this year. So we�re going to
look for opportunities that are available and keep talking about this and getting everybody�s
interest and keep working with the private sector and with colleges and universities
to get the science continuing, and also to get the investments we need.
BUSSEY: The role that the EPA had this go-around was quite an international one. You know,
that seems to be�that seems to be kind of a new role for the administrator? Is that
likely to continue? Or is�and from the standpoint of the EPA, is that likely to be now part
of the brief of�for you and for future administrators. And also, what did you find to be the case
at this conference, the opportunity for U.S. business internationally, talking with those
same individuals you were talking with about helping them with mitigation, with adaptation,
compared to, say, a competitor like the Chinese, who are investing hundreds of billions of
dollars of state-subsidized money into these zones?
MCCARTHY: Yeah. Well, let me sort of hit your first issue. I think EPA�s done a lot of
international work for a long time because EPA is more sophisticated than most other
environmental agencies in any other country. So I think�I just have to admit it, we�ve
always done this level of international discussion. It�s just people are noticing. (Laughs.)
You know? And there�s been more visibility of it. But we have provided international
leadership for a long time. I think we have done it where resources are available to us.
You know, everybody has limitations and we work within those. One of the great things
about the climate�the work that�s on climate adaptation that�s just beginning with this
new agreement is that it will bring resources to the table to expand this considerably�not
just by EPA, but by other countries that have similar expertise.
But we�ve been doing this for a long time, John, so there�s nothing new there. And
we�re going to continue with it, because it�s an opportunity for us to recognize
that environmental issues don�t actually respect boundaries, including international
ones. So we�ve been working in international forums for a long time. One of the good things
about it, though, is we�re integrating some of our environmental goals into discussions
at G-20 and G-7. So we�re beginning to not segregate discussions on the economy from
our other more segregated environmental ones, because they�re overlapping. We now don�t
just have Millennium Development Goals, we have Sustainable Development Goals. So you�re
able to sort of frame your larger investments in a way that will really produce the kind
of healthy sort of investment�and I mean that in my terms, public healthy�and a way
that�s really going to make the most sense. Now, the second half of your question was
what? BUSSEY: About U.S. business opportunities
for them. MCCARTHY: Oh, yeah. Right.
BUSSEY: You said they were circling around�I can imagine�they were circling around this
conference looking for that business. But you know, how does that stack up against a
China that�s also getting into this? And we saw with solar panels, simply wipe out
American business? MCCARTHY: Yeah. I think the U.S. is trying
to, once again, provide leadership on environmental technology, and on renewables. And I think
we can do that. That�s been one of the goals of the president moving forward with his Climate
Action Plan, is to how that we�re going to not just provide international leadership
to come to an agreement, but we want the benefits�the economic benefits associated with that. And
our investment community is responding to that call. And I think they�re also�part
of the discussion we had at the meeting was not just about investment, but about protecting
investment. That�s where the climate adaptation work
came in and that�s where a lot of the CEOs of international companies were there pushing
for an international agreement on this, recognizing that without that it doesn�t really matter
how well any one country does. So it was going on�you know, these discussions were happening
not in a vacuum, but in a very�in a very integrated way. And I�ve never seen businesses
come together so much over�certainly over an issue that has mistakenly been seen as
an environmental issue for a long time. (Laughs.) BUSSEY: So the clean power plan, we�re waiting
for a federal decision on whether or not to block it until the states have an opportunity
to muster their complaints against it. You�ve been very confident that this is going to
go through, but what if it doesn�t? What�s plan B?
MCCARTHY: Well, first of all, plan A�s a good one. And I don�t want anyone to think
it isn�t. I think we�ll get through the stay soon. We�ll be getting a decision maybe
in the next couple weeks or so. And I think that the work we did on this, and if you look
at it the support for many of the utilities, or certainly the lack of challenge speaks
pretty�volumes to whether or not we did this right. So there�s no reason�there�s
no damage that would warrant a stay that any of us can identify. So we�re really hopeful
on it. And, John, I think the biggest thing that we�re looking at is to just make sure
we continue the conversation with states. I mean, there�s two key points here. The
stay is immediate. You know, you look at that. But that�s always, you know, the rush to
judgement here. But I think we all are confident that we meet
the legal test there. But then the second question is how do we work with states to
get those plans in in September? And I think that�s where I�ve been focusing. And certainly
Janet McCabe and Joe Goffman, who are my dynamic duo on this, are out there working this issue
very hard. But I�ve been to many meetings. And I am seeing nothing but really actually
very positive energy around this. The states are beginning to work together, not just individually
but together, beginning to start making choices about where they think they want to head.
And I�m pretty confident we�re going to have the plans in, so.
BUSSEY: But if it doesn�t happen, plan B? MCCARTHY: Well, this is our shot at looking
at this under the Clean Air Act. We�d have to, again, and would always welcome Congress
taking action. We don�t see that coming up, so we�ll look at other opportunities.
BUSSEY: Yeah, I was going to say, the politics of this could get sticky.
I�ve got a lot more, but let�s get to you. Yes, please, right here in the front.
If you could identify who you are, tell us your name, who you�re with.
Q: I�m Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School. Thank you so much for coming and expanding
this story. My real question is for you, John, which is
how you tell the story, this holistic interdependent story, to the general, uneducated public so
they recognize the time pressure and the importance? And I would suggest also, it�s incredibly
important to do it visually because there are so many piece parts to this complex story.
I was stunned, for example, they story, I guess it was yesterday, about all the pollution
going into Rio and their concerns about what�s going to do for the summer Olympics. These
are�these are great, but pictures tell more than�you know, are more than a thousand
words. And I would suggest both of you start telling your story in that fashion.
BUSSEY: Good. We�ll keep that in mind. And I�m delighted to say that about five years
ago The Wall Street Journal finally did begin to publish pictures. (Laughter.) So we�re
almost�we�re almost up there, able to answer your good call.
MCCARTHY: Of the faces of the journalists? BUSSEY: You know, yes, please. Right back
there. Right back in the next table. Yes, please.
Q: Michael Gillette, World Bank, retired. We spent an awful lot of time in that place
to justify investment capturing the real price of vectors, including externalities such as
future costs. I was disappointed with the COP21 agreement, that it seems that the meeting
ducked the issue of getting the cost of carbon corrected, and failed to identify modalities
to get there, like cap-and-trade or carbon tax. Would you please enlighten us about this
discussion that took place there? Thank you. MCCARTHY: Well, you know, I wasn�t involved
in all of the discussions, so let me�let me say that. I mean, this agreement doesn�t
address everything. No one ever claimed that it would. But there clearly is an openness.
And there are many countries that are looking at whether or not they�re going to look
at a cap-and-trade or a carbon tax. It doesn�t preclude that from happening. I mean, they�re
the ones that are going to have to make those decisions. And I think it�s wise to let
every country get their own path forward. But clearly, there�ll need to be support
for that and some consistency on how one would look at that and calculate its success.
And those are things that we will be able to look at, because part of this agreement
is making it clear that you set your goals, you look at how you�re going to get there,
you articulate your mitigation strategies, you come back every two years to look at whether
you�re achieving those, you go to workshops, conferences where we share information, where
we expand everybody�s capacity to do that, and where you have an opportunity to challenge
whether one another is actually going to achieve or has achieved.
So we are going to have a transparent system that will hopefully allow folks to see what
countries are doing, be able to share those lessons learned, and really articulate a strategy
to see whether or not things are being done correctly. So it should, if all goes well,
allow the flexibility to choose different paths forward, but allow us to learn from
one another about those paths forward. BUSSEY: Yes, please. Right over here.
Q: Hi. My name�s Michael Hamburger. I�m with the State Department�s Office of Religion
and Global Affairs. And for the past year or so we�ve been involved
in engaging with faith communities domestically and internationally on advocacy related to
climate issues. And I wanted to get your impressions of the role of faith leaders and faith communities
in the lead-up to Paris, COP21, and what their role might be in the aftermath.
BUSSEY: The pope gave it a big tailwind, didn�t it?
MCCARTHY: It did. And that Fiat was the cutest thing, seeing it roll into the back of the
White House. (Laughter.) I think the role is pretty enormous. I think maybe folks in
the U.S. underestimate that. We have been working at EPA and building bridges with the
faith community for a few years now, particularly on climate issue, but not just exclusively,
because obviously many in the faith community see this as an opportunity for us to make
sure that human beings are protected the resources that God gave us. I mean, and they see that
as a moral obligation. And I think the president has stood up and characterized it like that.
And I think the pope has clearly been a large voice on this issue, but not exclusively.
People of all faiths are coming together on this issue, and in two different ways. Not
just the fact that we have a stewardship responsibility, but they�re also recognizing really that
the biggest vulnerabilities are for low-income and minority communities in the U.S. and low-income
areas internationally. They are simply not prepared to take on the challenge of a changing
climate. And they are generally not the ones at the table designing the strategies towards
that, towards addressing it. And so it is being seen much more as a large moral obligation
to address this. And their voice is going to be extraordinarily helpful.
One of the things that I�ve realized in working on climate issues for so long is how
people�the minute they hear climate they pigeonhole it into some kind of a tree-hugger
issue or a polar bear issue, you know? And we�ve had to make�and I think this goes
to Mitzi�s point�we�ve had to make this a much more personal issue. The faith community
helps us do that. It helps us do it by putting faces on it, by reminding us that we owe�that
we have an obligation to protect people who cannot protect themselves. They are the ones
most at risk here. But the other issue is they help up design strategies that engage
people. There are things that EPA is doing now to engage the faith community. And things
like our food recovery challenge, looking at food waste and how that reduces methane,
but also allows you to organize things so that people who need food get it and people
stop wasting food. So there are wonderful ways in which you can
build this into the very things that faith communities have focused on. Water is a clear
example. It is a large symbol in faith communities. And we can start engaging people with listening
to the people that they most listen to, and get the activities going so that this doesn�t
become just waiting for, you know, international solutions, but bringing different ways in
which individuals can participate. BUSSEY: Yes, please.
Q: Thank you. I�m Paula Stern. I guess I�m a member of the Renewable Energy Advisory
Committee over at the Commerce Department, and mother of a documentary filmmaker who
focuses on climate change and putting a face on what you have been so articulate about
today, as has the Obama administration. So thank you.
My question goes back to something I think that you raised with particular regard to
the bilateral relationships and discussions between U.S. and China. And I�m particularly
concerned every time I open my Google alert and see yet again another thing on renewable
energy and climate change stuff in China, and they�re building more incinerating plants�incineration
plants. Knowing that, based on my own experience here, there are entrepreneurs, I�ve worked
with one, CR Energy, that has a gasification technology which eliminates these kinds of
pollutants that come into the atmosphere because of incineration. And you mention methane,
I think about the dumps and what is being produced out of there.
So I would love it if you would address how as a nation the United States takes those
small�those entrepreneurs that have patents and technology, and get them developed into
investment-worthy activities, particularly in China, because I know I worked on this
for several years for CR Energy. It�s extremely, extremely frustrating and difficult, and yet
China is making these constant investments in old technology, which is only going to
add to the problem? BUSSEY: So you saw this happening at the conference,
this solution? MCCARTHY: You know, this is something that
there have been more solutions put on the table. You�re not wrong to be frustrated.
It takes a long time for these technologies to work their way into a market. But the one
thing that�s different now is that they see a market. (Laughs.) One of the reasons
why this president and why EPA went out for as long as we did in our clean power plan
is because we needed to send a longer-term market signal than three years, or five years,
or seven years. That�s the only way that investment is going to have the window that
it needs to invest and understand that it�s going to have a return on that investment.
Now, there are two things that happened during the COP this year. One was mission innovation,
which was Secretary Moniz�s really great initiative to get eight of the larger countries
to get together to double their research investment and coordinate on that. That�s a big deal.
But it also was Bill Gates and his group whose name, as it were�worse acronym than EPA;
I thought private sector would be better at acronyms. What is�what is�did you all
hear the Bill Gates initiative? AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
MCCARTHY: Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Thank you. Maybe it�s a good one, but I can�t
ever remember it. I mean, basically this was an effort to bring billions of private sector
dollars to the table for the sole purpose of investing in early start-ups. This was
the commitment to say: We have agreed to take the added risk because the reward is�the
need is so great that we will risk some losers more than we usually would. And I think we
need to have that. So there is an acknowledgment that technology
is clear. What�s frustrated me and climate efforts I think for decades, is that�is
that there has been a sense that if we don�t have every technology solution identified
to be able to get to less than 2 degrees, or now less than 1 �, then it ain�t good
enough. Well, what�s not been good enough is nothing. (Laughter.) So this is really,
I think, changes the dynamic in terms of setting a long-term investment.
In terms of China, I want to push back a little bit. You are right that they continue investments.
Their energy�their investments now are shifting rather dramatically in terms of how they�re
investing. And I can get you some follow-up information on that because I don�t have
it readily available, but their commitments on how they are going to bring renewables
up to a certain level and start reducing their reliance on coal is already showing. They
are already changing their investment portfolio dramatically. And some of the additional commitments
that they made while in Paris are consistent with that. So nothing turns on a dime. But
nothing turns at all unless you�re telling them that there�s a direction that the rest
of the world is going to head. And that�s what we got.
BUSSEY: China even wrote it into their five-year plan, strategic industries, one of them being
renewable pollution-reducing industries, which should be of concern to American companies
because that means, again, trillions of dollars of subsidies from the central government.
Yes, please, right here. Q: Hi. My name is Talia Schmidt. I�m a university
student at the College of William and Mary. And I had two questions for you, if that�s
OK, today. The first question is more about the agency itself. One of the critiques from
critics and environmentalists of the EPA is that they feel sometimes that�s there�s
a revolving door between industry leaders and EPA leaders. So I was wondering if you
could comment on that and whether you think that�s true.
And then the second is more just about current events and what�s happening in the U.S.
right now. We�ve seen in California, of course, there�s the big story on the methane
leak. And I�m wondering if you can kind of comment on how you feel that, moving forward,
the U.S. and the U.S. government can improve how we are regulating these different plants
and different places so that these different industries are keeping their equipment up
to date, because I know that this was one of the plants where some say that there was
a part of the leakage facility that was outdated. And if they had been up to speed with correcting
that, then we might have missed some of these problems.
BUSSEY: Methane, a lot worse than CO2. MCCARTHY: Yeah. Yeah, I know. (Laughter.)
I know�all too painfully know. Let me hit the first issue first, obviously, is the revolving
door for industry. And I don�t want to be flippant in the way I say this, but honestly
I�m opening every door and window of this agency. (Laughs.) I think everybody deserves
to be able to get in and have their voices heard. And if we can�t hear them inside,
people are going outside. I do not see industry as coming in there in a way that is crowding
the field or taking away our ability to see what the science or the law actually says.
We do what the science and the law says. But what I am looking for industry to do is
the same as anybody else. Every state, every tribe, every stakeholder can come in and tell
me what is the best, most reasonable, sustainable way to achieve what the science tells me I
need to do and what the law is demanding. And if they have the best ideas, I am running
with their ideas. I might even give them credit for it. (Laughter.) And I think in the clean
power plan we did that. You know, it benefited by those discussions.
So as much as people might worry, these are not behind-closed-door discussions. Everybody
knows who I am meeting with. And they are not coming in there and thinking they�re
meeting with somebody who�s going to just take a quick note and go do what they say.
They know they�re coming in there to have a substantive discussion about why they�re
right. And other people are doing the same thing. And I welcome it every time. And I
hope the agency continues to have that open-door policy.
Now, the second thing is on the methane leaks and keeping up with technology. I actually
think that�s a�that is a really, really good point. I tend to think that we have some
outdated regulations. And EPA tends to keep up more because our laws require that, but
there is a challenge for us to get and look at technologies and making sure that they�re
being kept up with and that our regulations keep up with the different ways in which industry
is changing and the energy world is changing. I think we do the best we can. In the case
of Porter Ranch, I can�t speak to it because I�m not privy to the investigation, but
there is one that is certainly going on. We have minimal oversight of those types of
facilities. In fact, we don�t have any. And so we are working with the state on the
public health issues around that, making sure that people are being relocated. Everybody
knows about Porter Ranch? If you don�t, you should read about it. It�s a significant
methane leak from a well that�s used as a storage that�s ancillary to a pipeline.
And so it�s a storage facility, essentially. And it is�it is leaking significant amounts
of methane. And they�re trying to figure out how to depressurize it so that they can
stop the leak. But it�s been going on since October and it�s not a good situation.
But you�re not wrong to say we need to keep up with it. And we need to make sure that
there�s compliance with the current standards. BUSSEY: Questions from the press way in the
back. Anybody? Nobody? OK. Yes, way in the back there.
Q: Hi. Jean Chemnick from ClimateWire. The moment around the president signing the
Paris accord, is that going to sort of be the next way for the U.S. to weigh in and
show leadership? And is that going to be a big event in New York, with that signing?
And can you tell me a little bit about the strategy around it, the communications and
everything? MCCARTHY: I don�t have anything I can share.
I�ve not been engaged in the discussion. Sorry.
BUSSEY: Right over here, way in the back. Q: Hi. Dave Shepardson with Reuters.
Can you talk a bit about the status of the Volkswagen diesel emissions issue? You�re
going to be meeting next week with VW CEO. Are you satisfied with the recall fixes they
propose to date? Can you give us any sense of when you think VW might be beginning the
process of recalling and fixing the vehicles? MCCARTHY: Well, Dave, you probably know we�ve
been having a large amount of technical discussions back and forth with Volkswagen. At this point,
we haven�t identified a satisfactory way forward, but those discussions are going to
continue. And we are really anxious to find a way for that company to get into compliance.
And we�re not there yet. BUSSEY: Council member questions? Yes, please,
right here. Q: Thank you, John. And thank you, Gina, for
coming back here. This, I know, is at least your second time, because I had the privilege
of moderating your last time here. MCCARTHY: I remember.
Q: So I think it�s an indication that we�ve entered a new era of environmental diplomacy
that�s recognized at places like the Council on Foreign Relations.
So my question� Q: (Off mic.)
Q: (Laughs.) Well, thank you, Mitzi. Sherri Goodman. Sherri Goodman, Consortium for Ocean
Leadership. My question goes to what might characterize
this COP21 as heralding a new era of investment powered diplomacy, which seems to me has been
building for some time but really has took its full flourish here in Paris. Not only
are we talking about unleashing the power of clean energy and renewables, but also markets
for clean air technology, clean water technology, autonomous system tracking of everything from
air, land, water, food that we need to do environmental monitoring and provide environmental
intelligence in the future. But a range of other new markets that potentially are opening
up. And how do you see�do you see that being a model for future diplomacy, not only climate
diplomacy but other, as you�ve talked about, international, environmental�and not just
environmental diplomacy, but sort of a new era where you have business as powerful as
governments at the table, and sort of pointing the direction?
MCCARTHY: Well, I�ve been called probably one the least diplomatic people in the world,
so I don�t want to speak like a diplomat. I would be really lousy at it. You know, I
can�t�I can�t speak to it more broadly, but my sense was that it was a powerful way
to do business, for government and business to work together to figure out how a path
forward can be made. And I expect it will have an impact. One of the things I think
that�for me, I think it expanded our ability to be able to work with business in a productive
way. EPA has been looking very hard at new technologies,
particularly monitoring technologies, because I think from my perspective the world of environmental
protection has been�really looked like it�s just a government issue in the hands of a
few when I really think it needs to be a shared responsibility much more broadly. So we have
been looking at ways of increasing citizen science, looking at, you know, new technologies
and how you reconcile those, and our decision making, and advance those and provide markets
for those, because the world�s changing. I don�t think we can expect to be monitoring
everything the way we have done it before. And we need it to be more broadly recognized
as something that�s of a concern to all of us and bring everybody together. New technologies
are amazing in terms of their ability to take hold and change the way we do business. We
just need to integrate those more into our business.
BUSSEY: Yes, way back there. Q: Hi. I�m Penny Starr with CNS News.
According to the Energy Information Administration, although alternative and renewables are growing
slightly, the fossil fuels will still account for 80 percent of U.S. energy needs through
2040. And federal data also shows that U.S. carbon emissions are at almost a 20-year low
right now. Now does that�those facts fit into the picture that EPA is painting of U.S.
energy�the U.S. energy landscape? Thank you.
MCCARTHY: Well, I think that just as Climate Change is a long-term issue, clearly addressing
that is. But I don�t think anyone disputes the direction in which the world is heading.
How quickly it gets there, including in the U.S., is going to be up for debate. But what
I always have to constant remind people�and this is, again, maybe an infatuation with
new technology for me�is that no one would have predicted what the world looked like
today 20 years ago�no one, zero. You know, if you told me 30 years ago there wouldn�t
be�you know, there wouldn�t be a phone in my house sitting on a wall, I would have
thought you were nuts, right? And now nobody is investing in landlines. (Laughs.) Would
you, you know? And so there�s�the world changes dramatically.
And I think the energy world it�s not going to be different because people are looking
for continued opportunity for investment. And frankly, a lot of the investment that
had been made before is so old and has not been invested in, that now there is an opportunity
for significant investment. And that is going to be, I think, in a direction which we are
saying the energy world is heading. And so I think you�re going to see an escalation
of that transition moving forward. BUSSEY: We have time for one more quick question.
Yes, please, right back here. Q: Thank you. Adam Taylor with the World Bank.
Thank you for your leadership leading in Paris and beyond.
MCCARTHY: You too. Q: We�ve talked a lot about finding greater
efficiencies and renewable energies, but another piece of the technology question, which I
think the Paris agreement kind of relies upon quite a bit, is the potential to take carbon
out of the atmosphere. And this is a cutting-edge area, contentious in some circles. But I�m
kind of curious what you see the prospects are for that, because if you read the Paris
agreement closely, for countries to ratchet up as quickly as many of us hope there has
to be some progress in that area. But again, you know, it�s not really clear where that�s
going to come from. MCCARTHY: You know, I haven�t been directly
involved in those discussions, but certainly I�m aware that they�re happening. John
Holdren, this has been an area where he has spent a considerable amount of time. I can�t
speak to the discussions that went behind it, because I wasn�t engaged in it. But
when you�re dealing with an issue like climate, you�re not going to dismiss any avenue to
address it. It is a big enough problem that it�s got to be addressed. But for me, I�m
going to with what I have available, and with incremental improvements in that, and ways
in which we can continue to invest. And I do think there�s going to be large controversy
in any of those strategies, but I certainly wouldn�t dismiss them until I heard them.
But that�s not where I�ve been focusing my time.
BUSSEY: Well, I think no matter where you might be on the climate change issue, the
Paris negotiations really did provide an incredible sense of momentum to the discussion overall.
So I want to ask you to join me in thanking the Council on Foreign Relations and Gina
McCarthy for this very interesting discussion. MCCARTHY: Thanks, John. Appreciate it. (Applause.)
(END) This is an uncorrected transcript.