Gina McCarthy: ‘Keep your asses in your seats’

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, February 25, 2019

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is enjoying life after serving in the federal government.

An exuberant McCarthy returned to Washington, D.C.,  to deliver a speech at the Georgetown Climate Center’s 10th anniversary reception that oscillated between crass humor and serious reflection.

She began the 15-minute address by noting that she worked for five Republican governors before taking the helm of EPA under President Obama.

“It did me a fat lot of good during the confirmation process,” she said. “I have the distinction of being the longest-sitting administrator-in-waiting in the history of the United States of America.”

McCarthy then thanked her former staffers at EPA, many of whom were in the room, including former air chief Joe Goffman.

“There are awesome folks here from throughout EPA,” said McCarthy, who now works at the Harvard University School of Public Health. “You know I love you, I think about you every day. I shout about you every day. I want you to continue to do the incredibly sophisticated message that I left you with, which is to keep your asses in your seats.”

McCarthy then weighed in on Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former Republican governor of California appeared in a video message commending the staff of the Georgetown Climate Center for 10 years of work.

McCarthy joked: “It is good to see Arnold Schwarzenegger. He always made me, I’ll admit, a little bit nervous when we did early climate stuff with him because he would pull up in his Hummer. As my mother would say, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.'”

She next riffed on the White House team studying the national security risks posed by climate change, which is being led by a Princeton University professor who has rejected mainstream climate science and argued that carbon dioxide is good for you (Climatewire, Feb. 21).

“The only person we know on [the team] so far loves CO2. It’s just the best thing ever. So this is going to be really fun,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

McCarthy proceeded to lead the audience in a rendition of “My Girl” by the Temptations, eliciting more laughter by replacing the words “my girl” with “climate change.”

“If you’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day, that’s solar energy with some battery storage,” she quipped of the lyrics.

The former EPA chief also showed a serious side at the event, pausing to reflect on the Trump administration’s agenda, which has included rolling back many of the regulations she crafted at EPA.

“One of the things I have learned as I’ve left government is you … get beyond the tweets and you get beyond all the bullshit,” she said. “The work of states and local governments is what’s holding this country together and which will present us a foundation to run when we have that opportunity.”

She continued, “While we all worry about what’s happening with our democracy, I know from my perspective, if I step back a little bit, I can see that today, democracy is actually waking up. It’s waking up in the face of challenges.”

McCarthy also sought to compare tobacco to climate change, calling for more urgent action on the latter.

“This is our decade,” she said. “It took 40 years … for there to be any active work on cigarette smoke. We don’t have that kind of time. This is a bigger deal than cigarette smoke. It’s already killing more people. And we have to take action. So it is our time to speak in a way that people understand, and that’s what our job has to be.”

McCarthy took two questions from the audience after speaking. One person asked whether she would consider running for president. She joked that she saved her announcement for another speech.

Newly minted Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) also spoke at the event. Under Brown’s leadership, the state is looking to pass ambitious cap-and-trade legislation that’s several years in the making (Climatewire, Feb. 4).

“I don’t have to tell anybody in this room that state action and leadership is really instrumental at this point in time,” Brown said. “This nation needs leadership, and it needs it from states like Oregon. … We will be the second state in the entire country to have a comprehensive cap and invest.”

Brown told E&E News after the event that the cap-and-trade program would likely seek to address planet-warming emissions from transportation. Carbon emissions are on the rise in Oregon, threatening the state’s climate goals, and transportation is a main culprit.

“In terms of transportation, I anticipate it will [address it],” the governor said. “I don’t know what the time frame will be.”