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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, As Prepared

12/09/2013
Good morning, zao shang hao.

Thank you to everyone at Tsinghua University for hosting me and for your hospitality. This is my second trip to China in three years. In 2010, I was the senior air quality official of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the part of the U.S. government charged with protecting public health and the environment. I was in Beijing for an air quality conference organized by Tsinghua University Professor He Kebin and his staff.

I’m now back in China as the head of the EPA. President Obama asked me to work with others in his administration in leading the United States’ efforts to address climate changewhich is inextricably linked to air quality. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for cooperation between our countries.

We represent the world’s largest economies, largest energy consumers, and largest emitters of carbon pollution. Of course there’s economic competition between us—but we share the same planet. A changing climate doesn’t recognize borders. We face it together. We must fight it together. If we do, we’ll seize the opportunity to build the clean energy economy of the future—a future that’s safer and healthier for our children. It’s fitting we hold today’s discussion on this campus, where a spirit of collaboration between us runs deep. It’s needed now more than everand it’s what I’d like to talk about today.

If we hope to have an open discussion on air quality and climate change, we have to acknowledge the tremendous air pollution challenges that now face China—including here in Beijing. The thing is—not too long ago, we faced those challenges in the United States.

The agency I lead was established more than forty years ago in response to public outcry and rampant pollution in our skies and waters. Soon after, we passed historic environmental laws like the Clean Air Act. We’ve made incredible progress since then, reducing air pollution by more than 70 percent—saving hundreds of thousands of lives and ensuring a cleaner, healthier environment across the United States.

Here in China you’re facing the same challenges we’ve faced—and are confronting them with urgency and commitment. I commend you for that. Yesterday, I visited the Beijing Air Monitoring Centera high-tech center with state-of-the-art equipment. The center provides detailed information on air quality in Beijing; and understanding the problem is the first, necessary, step.

China has taken additional, significant steps to strengthen emission standards for vehicles and industries, to create cleaner fuels, and to address air pollution from coal-fired power plants. I’m impressed by China’s work to develop an effective air quality management infrastructure that’s centrally organized and locally implemented, understanding that success depends on engagement with provinces.

In the U.S., EPA’s collaboration with our states has been key to allowing policy decisions to align with local circumstances—guaranteeing cleaner air for all. We applaud your progress, and stand ready to work with you on the environmental challenges that lie ahead—perhaps none greater than the threat posed by our changing climate.

Under President Obama’s leadership, we are taking action on climate change. Earlier this yearspeaking to students like youPresident Obama announced a Climate Action Plan that outlines commonsense steps to cut carbon pollution from power plants, the biggest individual source in the United States.

In September, U.S. EPA proposed standards for new power plants that are flexible, drive economic growth, and spark the clean energy innovation we need for a modern, low-carbon economy. The president’s plan also aims to build community resilience to climate change - spurring green infrastructure, modernizing water systems, and helping communities adapt to increasingly frequent extreme weather events. Finally, President Obama’s blueprint also seeks to establish our leadership on global climate change abroad—and we stand as ready and willing partners.

I know that China, too, is taking action to address climate change while reducing traditional air pollution and promoting economic growth. The road ahead will be tough, but we all benefit from our continued collaboration; sharing our experiences and expertise. In the end, it’s about protecting and supporting our people and our economies—today and for generations to come. It’s about science, technology, and our governments working in harmony to achieve those objectives.

Neither of our countries can move to a low-carbon economy over night. But we can get there faster together—the good news is were already partnering on many fronts. Through our air programs alone: We’ve created tools to support regional air quality management. We’ve built the infrastructure for market-based pollution reduction programs. We’ve cut pollution from cars and trucks—dramatically improving urban air quality. And we’re working to curb the burning of solid fuels in crude, unvented cook stoves—another real public health and climate risk.

Our EPA and Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection partnership has been longstanding. Just yesterday I had the honor of meeting with Minister Zhou to continue our conversations. Before arriving on campus, I met with Vice Minister Xie of China’s National Development and Reform Commission to discuss our work through the U.S.-China climate change working group. Our collaboration can be found at the highest levels—as earlier this year, President Obama and President Xi outlined a shared commitment to phase down extremely potent climate pollutants known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

And our partnership can also be found right in front of us. Let me take a moment to acknowledge Professor Hao Jiming, the renowned “father of air pollution control in China.” One of my chief U.S.-China policy experts has the privilege of completing his doctoral studies under him.

No matter where we come from, for the sake of our children we all strive for a clean environment, a stable climate, and a strong, sustainable economy. And we can get there while respecting the need for economic growth.

The old rule that says we have to sacrifice a healthy economy for a healthy environment doesn’t apply anymore. In fact, a clean, healthy environment is a prerequisite for a strong economy. From the time the U.S. enacted its landmark environmental laws, we’ve doubled the size of our economy—driving technological innovation, creating thousands of well-paying middle-class jobs, and generating billions of dollars in economic productivity.

In fact, every dollar invested to comply with the Clean Air Act has returned $4 to $8 dollars in economic benefits. Here in China, you face challenges similar to the ones we’ve faced. And you, too, recognize the indispensable, interdependent relationship between the environment and the economy. Improving air quality to expand public health protections improves and expands economic opportunities.

Like President Obama said to those young people back in June, I believe in what we’re doing as a parent as much as a representative of my country. My three children are about your age and they’re thinking about these issues just like you. I’ve been to many of America’s great colleges and universities where young people are driving innovation—pushing the boundaries of green technology, science, and research. The solutions you develop will not only help China—they’ll help the world.

This university has a tradition of being home to educational and cultural exchange between our two great countries. Many of your scholars have joined American students in their studies abroad, often returning home to become leaders in industry and government—strengthening our bond in an increasingly interconnected world.

To the students here today, I want to thank you and to encourage you. You’re part of your generation’s great calling. You’re our hope for the future. Embrace it. Lead it. We need your spirit of collaboration and partnership now more than ever.

Thank you.