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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at Center for American Progress, As Prepared

12/02/2013
Thanks, Neera, for that introduction and for hosting me today. Thank you also to my good friend Carole Browner for leading today’s conversation. And thank you all for joining us.

First of all, let me congratulate everyone at CAP on your 10-year anniversary. It’s an incredible achievement to be the place where the best minds come to work and engage us to think about and act on opportunities to strengthen our country. I can’t thank you all enough for the work you’re doing on issues like climate change that go to the heart of what kind of country we want to leave for our children and grandchildren.

My life has been dedicated to protecting our environment and I see no greater and more urgent threat to public health than climate change – climate change is not just a public health and safety necessity – it’s one of the greatest economic challenges.

Earlier this summer President Obama spoke eloquently and comprehensively about the urgency to act on climate in a speech at Georgetown University. It was a speech that I had been dreaming a president would make for many years and I was so proud of our president. He showed enormous courage and strength, as he challenged all of us to acknowledge the changing climate and he charged his cabinet to take action. Call me biased, but I think it was best speech he ever delivered.

He walked through his Climate Action Plan that outlines commonsense, pragmatic steps that EPA and other agencies across the administration are now taking to cut carbon pollution, to invest in clean energy, to help cities and towns build more resilient communities to prepare for the impacts of a changing climate, and to leverage broader and more significant international action.

As you may know, in September EPA proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants using the authority Congress granted EPA under the Clean Air Act. These standards, when finalized, will ensure that modern technologies to reduce carbon pollution are built into new power plants from this day forward. And in June of next year, EPA will propose guidelines for states to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. EPA will ensure that these commonsense standards will provide states the flexibility they need to effectively protect public health, put Americans back to work, and spark domestic clean energy innovation.

Throughout the process, EPA has conducted vigorous outreach and engaged with industry leaders, bipartisan elected officials, NGO’s, and the general public – well in advance of putting pen to paper on any proposed rule for existing power plants. We’ve hosted 11 public listening sessions and numerous regional stakeholder meetings across the country. Those 11 listening sessions were attended by more than 3,300 people. People spoke their minds, from the heart. The sessions reminded all of us just how amazing it is when you watch democracy in action.

We continue to have an open comment period for anyone to offer their thoughts and ideas on the upcoming existing plant standards. We need a robust, transparent processes so we can develop options that work for all states – no matter what their current energy mix. The President has charged EPA to play a central role in crafting the most effective, pragmatic way to reduce carbon pollution as part of a larger effort to transition to a 21st century clean energy economy – and that is what we will do.

EPA will successfully lead the implementation of the President’s plan and this effort will put the U.S. in a position to more effectively leverage international actions to address climate change. That’s the reason why I am going to China next week - my first trip to China as EPA administrator. The U.S. and China represent the world’s largest economies, the world’s largest energy consumers, and the world’s largest emitters of carbon pollution. I guess two out of three ain’t bad.

Of course there’s economic competition between us, but one thing is undeniable – we share the same changing climate and we must find a way to fight it together and seize the opportunity to shape the clean energy economy of the future. I am looking forward to finding common ground on climate moving forward, building on more than 30 years of successful cooperation and partnership between EPA and the Chinese ministry.

While I am all too well aware of the severe air quality challenges that China now faces, I see these challenge as ones where the U.S. can truly speak from experience in support of China’s efforts to reduce air pollution. Let’s not forget—we were there not too long ago. Before the EPA and our landmark environmental laws in the U.S., dark blankets of pollution covered our great American cities, not just LA, but NYC and Pittsburg.

Public outcry in the U.S. led to game changing environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, sparking good old fashioned American ingenuity that drove innovative technologies, products and practices that have collectively resulted in remarkable progress reducing pollution, saving lives, and protecting and restoring precious natural resources across this great nation. In China, the public is also crying out for change as the Chinese economy and pollution levels continue to grow.

And the Chinese are now attacking their problem with a greater sense of commitment and urgency. And we can and must help. The air pollution in China does not stay in China. Ozone pollution travels to our pacific coast, mercury pollution travels across the globe and deposits in oceans, rivers and streams that we rely on for food and recreation. Our history, our experience and our know-how tells us that China does not need to grow their economy at the expense of their environment. And the actions they take to reduce their air pollution can pave the way to carbon pollution reductions.

So when I visit China next week, I plan to highlight steps forward that China has already taken, talk about other steps to come, and how we can continue to work together. For example, I plan to visit the Beijing air monitoring center, a high-tech center using state-of-the-art equipment that was made in the United States. The center provides detailed information on air quality in Beijing to help assess and address air issues in and around the city. It will help China develop plans to meet their ambitious air quality goals. Those plans will build on efforts already taken to strengthen vehicle emission standard, to increase energy efficiency, to reduce industrial pollution, to address the challenge of traditional, coal-burning cook stoves - and perhaps most importantly, to increase public access to air quality data.

But we all know that China has daunting air pollution challenges ahead. Continued progress will require the kind of national, regional and local air quality management infrastructure that the U.S. has put in place to set strong standards and engage and hold accountable all levels of government in implementing those standards. Success will take time and resources but we have made substantial progress together. And we know that as we support China’s efforts to tackle traditional air pollution, opportunities will arise to use the new tools and infrastructure to identify and implement strategies that also support reductions in carbon pollution. What is good for air quality in general, can be very good for the climate as well – if we follow a path that leads to a clean, low carbon future.

I thought it was a very good sign when earlier this year, President Obama and President Xi outlined a shared commitment to lead a phase down of the extremely powerful climate pollutants known as hydrofluorocarbons. It is also very encouraging that members of the climate working group of the strategic and economic dialogue are also talking next week about how to scale up our efforts together on everything from HFC’s to new clean energy technologies, to smart grid systems.

So I remain very hopeful for the future - our own history tells me I should be hopeful. Just look at what decades of the Clean Air Act has taught us: we can reduce pollution to protect our health and support robust economic growth. In fact, we know now that protecting our environment is a requirement for strong, sustainable economic growth. Every U.S. dollar invested to comply with the Clean Air Act has returned $4 to $8 dollars in economic benefits. And if we just look at the benefits from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, we see that by 2020 benefits will outweigh costs 30 to 1.China, too, recognizes the essential, interdependent relationship between the environment and the economy—by improving air quality to protect public health, we can expand economic opportunities.

We know we need to act on climate change here in the U.S. and to leverage our efforts to spark action across the world. Well, that is why I am going to the other side of the world. At EPA we must ensure that our work on climate and indeed all our work are increasingly visible and relevant to the communities we serve each day. We must engage folks where they live, work, and raise their families and we must empower them with the information and the tools they need to take action to protect themselves and their children. That is true for EPA here in the United States and that is true for our colleagues in China.

Thank you all again. I’ll stop there and turn it over to Carol.