Apr 24, 2013
11:20 PM
The Connecticut Story

Gina McCarthy: A Cabinet Member in Waiting

Gina McCarthy: A Cabinet Member in Waiting

New Haven Register file photo

Earth Day 2013 has come and gone, yet the American people are still waiting to hear whether Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama's nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will be confirmed by the Senate. Though her April 11 confirmation hearing was, according to OpEdNews.com, "a robust exchange encapsulating the primary points of view consistently espoused on each side of the aisle," the session concluded with McCarthy's own statement of intent: "Environmental protection is not a partisan issue. My door is always open."

Those remarks are totally consistent with the attitude her Connecticut colleagues say she displayed in her role as commissioner of the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from 2004 to 2009. "Gina really reinvigorated discussion and interest in environmental issues facing the state," says Dennis Shain, communications director of what's since been renamed the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP). "She united what we call the 'stakeholders': legislators, members of the business community, people from different environmental groups and people at the department." McCarthy's prior experience in her native Massachusetts—where she served as environmental advisor to five governors, including Mitt Romney—"made her very attractive to Connecticut," says state Sen. Edward Meyer (D-Branford), chair of the General Assembly's Environment Committee.

"She's a great communicator," he says. "Someone who never hesitates to meet with you and talk with you. And she has alarming candor, holds nothing back. She had very high environmental goals with respect to air, water and open space. You could call her a visionary; she pushed Connecticut." He considers McCarthy's signature achievement to be the goals and standards she helped set for legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "She was the inspiration behind a bill of mine that requires a 20 percent reduction on greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020, and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. She insisted it could be done, and fought for it over the objections of certain individuals in the business community."

Her other accomplshments at the DEP included the development of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States by targeting the power companies that burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. McCarthy also supported a regional lawsuit among the Northeastern states, says Meyer, "to stop certain Midwestern states—particularly Indiana, Illinois and Ohio—from polluting the air in a manner that negatively affects us as air currents move eastward."

Schein admired her concern for what he calls "nature deficit disorder" in children. "Kids don't get outside much any more; they're always watching big-screen TVs and playing Xbox," he says. "This lifestyle leads to health problems such as obesity and diabetes, and these children are also cut off from nature—they don't appreciate trees and streams and the outdoors. When they grow up, they might not care as much about the environment." So McCarthy launched a initiative titled "No Child Left Inside," which still hosts special Family Day programs in Connecticut's state parks. He also notes her drive to modernize the DEP. "Substantive issues are important," he says, "but so are management skills and the ability to see the needs of an organization: reorganizing the place, getting new computer systems, looking at the processes for how decisions are made and permits improved. She worked on improving all those and making things move more quickly. That's an important part of her legacy."

According to The Hill, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, recently told Capitol reporters that the vote to confirm McCarthy would take place either this week or the week of May 6, following Congress's April 29 to May 3 recess. If confirmed as head of the EPA, McCarthy—currently the agency's assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation—will be in the key position to advise the Obama administration on the much-debated Keystone XL Pipeline, set to transport petroleum products from Alberta, Can. to refineries in the Gulf Coast of Texas. While Meyer thinks McCarthy's background and bipartisan powers of communication well suit her for the role, he's concerned that the conservatives in Congress may defeat her confirmation after all.

"I worry that they'll filibuster and block the nomination," he says. "The Republicans are not a strong environmental party any more. During the 2012 Presidential campaign most Republican candidates vowed to abolish the EPA. It's a really remarkable sea change in that party since the days of Richard Nixon, who established the agency."

Gina McCarthy: A Cabinet Member in Waiting

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