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A healthy economy and a healthy environment-including clean energy-go hand in hand

By Gina McCarthy

Change is happening all around us—at every level and every scale.

As someone who's been in this business for more than 30 years, I can tell you it's an exciting time to work on environmental protection—really unprecedented.

But what I want to focus on is how far we've come in this country on the issue of climate change. Because we're at a critical moment.

In December, nearly every nation on earth gathered in Paris to set a course for climate action that will protect our planet for generations to come. And under President Obama's leadership, our country has shown the world that real progress is possible.

We've set historic greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards that will send our cars twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade. We've made unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in U.S. homes, buildings, and appliances—actions that will save consumers billions of dollars.

Our private sector is stepping up in big ways. They've recognized markets are changing. They're seizing those opportunities. And they've already committed billions of dollars to scale up investments in clean energy innovation.

In my own lifetime, I've seen progress to heal our environment that makes me sure we're up to the climate challenge.

Some of you might be old enough to remember that 50 years ago, we pumped toxic leaded-gas into our cars; people smoked on airplanes; and residents of Los Angeles could hardly see each other across the street.

As a kid in Massachusetts, I remember getting out of the water at Boston Harbor beaches and having to literally peel the oil and tar off my skin.

Four-and-a-half decades later, our work together has changed all of that. We've cut air pollution by 70 percent; we've phased out leaded gas; we've cleaned up beaches and waterways; and we've helped keep our kids healthy… all while our national GDP has tripled.

We've proven time and again that a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand. We don't act despite the economy; we act because of it.

Smart regulation internalizes the costs of pollution into the cost of doing business—all the while guided by science and the law.

Our success is judged by how well we send clear market signals for the private sector to see and follow. That's how it works.

We set up the ground rules, and then get out of the way to let the market do the rest. Success means building a resilient marketplace where businesses thrive and investment flows to environmentally-smart technologies.
We're already seeing this happen. Because innovation has brought solutions to our doorstep.

Today, the U.S. is generating three times as much wind power, and 20 times as much solar power as we did when President Obama first took office. Since 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system in the U.S. has dropped by 50 percent. Our solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy, and today, every major U.S. automaker offers electric vehicles.

We've come so far. But we can't go the distance alone.

Even as we think about the big picture—whether it's sweeping global agreements or our landmark national policies—we're going to need states, communities, and institutions like this one to actually implement them.

That's what turns promises of protection into reality on the ground. And that's where you come in—because impacts happen at the local level, in cities and towns, in neighborhoods, and in states all across the nation. You know that better than anyone.

And to do that, we've got to keep supporting the incredible work that's happening at the state and local level. That's where the rubber meets the road. We're moving the needle in the right direction. But we need to keep going together. Our battles against climate change and other environmental impacts can't all be fought and won inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway.

We need states, cities, citizens-and schools-to roll up your sleeves, like you have been, and join us. So I urge you to go out into your communities and share what you know.

Tell them how much this country needs the Clean Power Plan to unleash innovation and create jobs. Prove to them that an energy transformation is already underway, and that EPA's work is accelerating our progress. Show them why acting on climate change will make our neighborhoods safer and healthier for generations to come.

We've done so much together… but there is so much more work to do. So let's keep it up.

For the Record is an edited version of a speech Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, made at the Virginia Coastal Policy Center's Climate Change Conference in November 2015.

 


January/February 2016