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Gina McCarthy, the 13th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), worked under former President Barack Obama from 2013 to the end of his presidency fighting to keep the environment from being damaged minimal.
On Feb. 16, UMass Lowell students filed into O’Leary Library’s lecture hall where McCarthy gave a lecture lasting just over an hour.
McCarthy attended UMass Boston during her undergraduate years. She began her lecture by explaining how the new Trump administration wants to use the EPA.
“One of the challenges you’re going to see as we move forward, is that you have folks in Washington now, including the nominee for the EPA, is that all we really need is states [on the EPA’s side]. That [the] EPA is just using their power. If we just get the EPA out of the way that things will be better.”
McCarthy then said that the new administration believes the EPA should focus on its “core work.” “I don’t know what that core work is if it’s not working with states,” she said.
Though McCarthy has not been at the EPA for almost a month, she still struggled to distance herself from the position.“I’m sorry. I keep saying ‘We.’ I have not been divorced long enough to change the personalization I give the EPA.”
Before the EPA was created, she told the audience of over 100 students there was nothing stopping people from discharging excess waste into the nearest river.
Once the EPA was created in 1970 under former President Richard Nixon’s executive order, the cleanup began. McCarthy explained that she started her work in local and state governments. To students wondering what they can do to help, she said, “There’s lots to be done no matter where you are in government if you have facts and if you’re willing to stick your head out.”
McCarthy then outlined what the EPA has accomplished in its 47 years of existence. “High blood lead levels were found when the EPA started in about 88% of kids. That is now down to 1%.” Regarding Flint Michigan, she said, “Drinking water is actually not the largest source of lead for kids. It’s dust in urban areas and the soil.”
She also talked about air pollution in the United States. “Since the EPA began, air pollution dropped 70 percent. Nobody claims success like that in the rest of the world. Because of these successes, she says, our economy has grown as well.
“The important thing to remember is that all of that happened while our U.S. economy tripled. There is no way in which I would suggest that in improving the environment is a bad economic investment.” She believes improving the economy is fundamental in a strong economy.
Regarding the new administration, she said that she knows little more than the public does about their plans. “This is what I hear, they view environmental regulations as a cost to the economy. They have called EPA horrendous because we regulate.”
“If you know anything about EPA, we were created to regulate,” she explained. McCarthy was able to discuss her frustrations with the new administration trying to dismantle her work while also staying relaxed.
Speaking about the Paris agreement, a turning point for the world in terms of climate change, McCarthy explained how important the plan was. “Carbon Pollution would be reduced by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. The first compliance date is 2022. More than half the states in the United states, including states that have sued us, already achieve the 2022 standard.”
Towards the end of her lecture, before students asked questions, she offered some hope. Though the Trump administration appears as though they will not continue to uphold the Paris Agreement, there will not be too much damage done to the environment. She felt that four years will not be enough to destroy all of the work that the EPA has accomplished. “We’re still going to be able to catch up,” she said.
Throughout her lecture, McCarthy told students to be hopeful in unknown times. Though President Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, who previously wanted the EPA shutdown, to head the EPA, McCarthy has faith in the younger generations to continue to work on improving the environment.