Gina McCarthy: These are ‘crazy ass’ times

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is fuming about the Trump administration.

Speaking Friday at the Institute for Policy Integrity’s 10th anniversary conference at the New York University School of Law, she ticked off a long list of environmental policies that frustrate her. Some of her complaints: Climate science has been scrubbed from government websites; the administration is changing how it calculates the benefits of slashing greenhouse gases; and President Trump has said he’ll exit the Paris climate accord.

“Honestly, this is how I technically refer to the days that we’re living in today. They are a technical term. They’re crazy ass,” McCarthy told an audience in New York on Friday afternoon. “Every day, I turn on the TV or pick up or open up the Timesor something, and I say, ‘Oh, my God, please don’t let anything be in there.’ I don’t want any news of any kind.”

McCarthy hammered the new administration for its treatment of her former employees.

She accused her successor, Scott Pruitt, of disrespecting career staff at EPA and shunning their input as he rolled back regulations — several of which she helped craft during the Obama administration. Workforce levels at EPA have been in decline as employees have retired or taken buyouts offered last year.

McCarthy said that acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who replaced Pruitt after he resigned in July under a crush of ethics allegations, has taken a different approach with EPA employees. But the policy outcomes under the new boss will remain the same, because Wheeler was given the job to implement Trump’s agenda, she said.

“The new administrator, Wheeler, is much more respectful of the staff. Does that mean the decisions are going to come out differently? Not likely,” McCarthy said, “because everybody takes that job, and I think he did, knowing what the wishes of the president were.”

Before the Trump administration arrived last year, she gave some advice to beleaguered career staff at the agency. “I had one consistent piece of advice for them before I left, and that was to sit in the chair and keep your ass there as long as you possibly can,” she said.

These days, McCarthy avoids talking to career EPA employees to keep from endangering their jobs at the agency, she said. A vocal Trump critic since she left office, she has sought to rally opposition to the proposed policy reversals.

“I’m not any longer giving them advice, because first of all, I’m not spending my time talking to them because it probably wouldn’t be great for their longevity,” McCarthy said. She said she was heartened that although many EPA staff members have retired, several are staying to execute the agency’s mission.

“There are many, many more that are staying, and I think they’re going to try to continue to do their jobs effectively,” McCarthy said.

‘Ace Ventura’ climate rule

McCarthy also took aim Friday at the Trump administration’s proposal to replace a major climate rule crafted under her watch.

She called the draft Affordable Clean Energy rule (ACE) — the replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan — “the ‘Ace Ventura’ thing,” referring to the 1994 comedy film starring Jim Carrey. McCarthy called for a federal appeals court to issue a decision about the legality of the Obama rule, which was put on hold by the Supreme Court.

“The D.C. Circuit [Court of Appeals] deserves a ruling on the Clean Power Plan,” she said. Litigation has been stalled as the Trump EPA has moved to repeal and replace the regulation.

She also joked about Pruitt’s policy to bar agency grant recipients from serving on EPA’s science advisory committees. Pruitt argued that receiving EPA funding was compromising advisers’ objectivity.

“If you’ve ever seen, and now I see it, how much these universities pay these scientists, a $25,000 [Science to Achieve Results] grant would buy me off for my entire lifetime,” said McCarthy, who’s now a professor of public health at Harvard University. “No wonder why they don’t want those damn scientists on those panels.”

She lamented that climate change has become a partisan issue and called for advocates of climate policies to better communicate its consequences for public health. But McCarthy said only a change in administrations can spur renewed action on climate at the federal level.

She said to the audience Friday, “It is crazy ass, but we will get through it. We have to get through it. There is no choice. No choice whatsoever.”

She urged action in protests and at the ballot box.

“Get up and march, because that’s what it takes. That’s what we did in the ’60s. That’s what we did in the ’70s. So all you young people, buy bell-bottoms. Wear madras shirts. Get out. Information is still power. That’s what we have to bring to the table.”