Newly confirmed US Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy pledged Tuesday to let science drive her agency’s agenda as it begins to develop controversial rules to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants.
Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at Harvard Law School -- which included many friends from McCarthy’s years as a top state environmental official under Mitt Romney and other governors -- the Massachusetts native known for her blunt talk and pronounced Boston accent said it was time to dispel the myth that environmental regulation hurts the economy.
“Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs?” she asked to loud applause from 310 attendees. “We need to cut carbon pollution to strengthen the economy; let's talk about this positively.”
McCarthy made no new policy announcements in her speech and in a question and answer period, but laid out a case that Environmental Protection Agency regulation in the last 43 years has helped, not hurt, the economy. One of the key arguments by Republicans in Congress against environmental regulation is that it will make the United States less competitive and eliminate jobs.
McCarthy waited almost five months to start her job after Republicans launched a concerted effort to stall her confirmation. Opponents eventually dropped efforts to block President Obama’s nominee and McCarthy was confirmed earlier this month.
“Getting confirmed two weeks ago, it really was an honor of a lifetime,” McCarthy said, adding to enormous laughter, “It took two lifetimes to get confirmed ... 1,000-plus questions, 70-plus Senate visits...”
McCarthy is perhaps best known in Massachusetts for her work in crafting tough air pollution rules that helped clean up some of the state’s dirtiest coal and oil-fired power plants. She later led the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection before moving to the EPA in 2009.
In addition to dealing with carbon regulations for power plants, McCarthy will face decisions on how to make fracking, the controversial drilling technique used to extract natural gas from shale, safer. Water allocation problems are also likely to confront the agency as droughts increase and competition grows for the resource.
McCarthy said the EPA, despite a partisan, fractured Washington, will let science drive the agenda.
“We are not going to stop looking at the science,’’ she said.
When asked by an audience member about the controversial Keystone pipeline that would bring tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in the United States, McCarthy first joked she was leaving the room, then saying “the department is looking at the environmental impacts associated with the Keystone pipeline. The best that EPA can do is continue to be an honest commentator.”
McCarthy’s daughter, Maggie McCarey, 27, a program coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, introduced her, saying her mother would go far in a partisan Washington because she was so skilled at breaking up battles between her and her two siblings.
“She has really perfected her mediating skills,’’ said McCarey.
About the green blog
Helping Boston live a greener, more environmentally friendly life.
Christopher Reidy covers business for the Globe.
Doug Struck covers environmental issues from Boston.
Glenn Yoder produces Boston.com's Lifestyle pages.
Eric Bauer is site architect of Boston.com.
Bennie DiNardo is the Boston Globe's deputy managing editor/multimedia.
Dara Olmsted is a local sustainability professional focusing on green living.