It is one of the great myths of our political debate that we must choose between economic growth and environmental protection. Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee to head up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has spent her career proving this a false choice.
McCarthy has been an advocate for crafting solutions to environmental challenges, while simultaneously increasing market certainties and creating opportunities. For the business community, certainty translates into confidence, and confidence leads to more investment, more jobs and more robust growth.
Created in 1970 by President Nixon, the EPA has to balance the nation’s allegiance to individual rights with its equally cherished commitment to protecting the environment commons. EPA administrators, regardless of party, have relied on a mix of regulatory and market forces to ensure that our air, water and soil allow future generations to thrive, while dealing with serious challenges. Having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, McCarthy understands that good regulations can bridge partisan divides.
She also appreciates that preserving natural resources and the ecosystem in which we live and upon which our children depend is inherently a conservative idea. As Sen. Barry Goldwater wrote in The Conscience of a Majority, “While I am a great believer in the free enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment.”
Now, almost 50 years later, our nation faces even more serious environmental challenges. Cancer-causing chemicals proliferate. Increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue to pose health and economic challenges. A new report by the EPA found that the majority of rivers and streams in the United States can’t support healthy aquatic life, and the trend is going in the wrong direction. The report labels 55 percent of the nation’s waterways as being in “poor” condition.
These challenges call for a well-funded EPA, managed by an administrator who appreciates the need for both market-based approaches and effective regulatory policies that together can encourage choice, provide clear pricing signals, avoid hidden costs and hold industry accountable.
In her 25 years in public administration, McCarthy has been an environmental advisor to five governors, including former Gov. Mitt Romney. At the EPA, she has been adept at listening to and working with the private sector to set clear rules.
As assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, McCarthy shepherded through new carbon pollution standards, issued jointly with the Transportation Department’s fuel economy standards. Those standards will nearly double the fuel economy of new cars and light trucks, and cut carbon pollution of vehicles in half by 2025. These new standards are good for the environment, and will reduce reliance on foreign oil imports.
These standards are also good for business, helping companies save money on fuel and operating costs and allowing them to better compete against foreign corporations. Moreover, auto manufacturers, biofuel producers, venture capitalists and the clean-energy sector were given the confidence they need to invest in new technologies and products that make these fuel efficiency standards a reality. McCarthy helped open the door for these investments and future savings, and she did it while working with industry to fine-tune details that will make for a smooth transition.
Whoever takes the reins at the EPA will face other challenges as well. The Toxic Substances Control Act is in desperate need of reform. The EPA is currently undertaking an important study on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, which will be published in 2014.
Several business organizations, including the American Sustainable Business Council, have endorsed McCarthy to be the EPA’s administrator because of her experience bridging the gap between business and environmental concerns.
The business community can be confident that McCarthy will work with the private sector in a transparent way that gives us the clarity we need to write our business plans and make investments that matter for the economy. We can be united in our support because she has done it before. And as she has said, “Environmental protection is not a partisan issue.”
Richard Eidlin is policy director for the American Sustainable Business Council.