Tufts alumna Gina McCarthy named head of Environmental Protection Agency
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 01:09
After an almost five-month long confirmation process, Gina McCarthy (G ’81), a Tufts alumna and Boston native, became the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 19, replacing former administrator Lisa Jackson.
McCarthy graduated from Tufts in 1981 with a joint Master of Science degree in environmental health engineering and urban and environmental policy and planning. This year, she earned recognition from Tufts, too, receiving the Outstanding Service Award in April.
Over the course of her career, McCarthy has worked as a civil servant in Massachusetts and Connecticut under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and in 2009, McCarthy became the assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
McCarthy’s confirmation to EPA administrator was delayed a record 147 days by Republican members of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, who posed more than 1,000 questions to her before officially approving her position. She was ultimately confirmed with a vote of 59-40.
Ann Rappaport (E ’92), a lecturer in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP), described McCarthy as realistic and sensible.
“She has developed a reputation as somebody who is practical and focused on common sense, and who very carefully involves all viewpoints and tries to seek common ground,” Rappaport said.
Sophomore Charlotte Clarke, who is an eco-representative through the Tufts Office of Sustainability and is involved with the Tufts Sustainability Collective, said that McCarthy’s nomination is hopefully an indication that President Obama is getting serious about climate change.
“I think it’s a sign, hopefully, of a shift from saying things to doing things,” she said.
In June, Obama took what many environmentalists saw as a step in the right direction when he delivered a speech at Georgetown University, announcing his Climate Action Plan.
According to Business Week, one of the key elements of Obama’s plan is proposed regulations on emissions of new and existing power plants, which, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, account for one-third of greenhouse gases and 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States. As head of the EPA, McCarthy will be tasked with the responsibility of implementing Obama’s proposal.
McCarthy will issue a new plan to regulate greenhouse gases from new power plants by the end of September, according to Business Week. Another part of the plan proposes increasing renewable energy production on federal land as well as preparing communities to handle higher temperatures.
Senior Devyn Powell, a member of intercollegiate organization Students for a Just and Stable Future is skeptical about the plan.
“I admire [Obama] for using what leverage he has in a completely broken Congress to get some things through, but at the same time it’s not the kind of sweeping, decisive action that we had hoped for and frankly that we need,” Powell said. “So, when he made that speech earlier this summer it was like, ‘Wow, the president for the first time ever is making an entire speech just about climate change, he’s laying out this plan and making all these promises,’ and he made it sound like he’s going to make it a priority, and Gina McCarthy totally endorsed the plan.”
“But I just don’t know what he is actually going to do, and I don’t know what he actually can do because it’s not like Congress is gung ho about climate change in any way, shape or form,” he added.
McCarthy is heading the EPA at a particularly difficult time for the agency — in July, House Republicans proposed a $2.8 billion cut in the EPA’s budget for fiscal year 2014. There has also been controversy over the proposed regulations on power plant emissions that come along with Obama’s new plan.
There is no question that McCarthy has a tough road ahead, and, according to Rappaport, who received her Ph.D in environmental engineering from Tufts in 1992, the EPA’s responsibilities are hard enough even outside of the current political climate.
“[The] EPA is responsible for protecting environmental integrity and human health — they’re not different. It’s the EPA’s job to turn policy goals that are articulated in laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, into enforceable regulations,” she said. “It’s a job that requires the agency to have outstanding scientists who can interpret basic research and then translate that into policy action.”
Rappaport told the Daily that along with some of her colleagues, she is currently doing research on the apparel industry in Haiti. Based on her insight, she explained that when a country does not have environmental agencies acting on behalf of the people and the environment, the effects on human health and the environment can be devastating as well as expensive.
“The political environment surrounding the EPA is fascinating, because on the one hand, the EPA’s walking around with a target on its back — it’s really easy for people to take shots at it. But on the other hand, everybody wants to live in a nice neighborhood, people want their children to be healthy and they want to be healthy themselves,” she said. “Unless you have a government agency that is in charge of making sure that certain norms and practices are put in place, you can’t achieve those basic goals.”