Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, as Prepared


Thank you, John, for that introduction. It’s great to be here.

Today, I want to talk about what EPA is doing on two core issues that matter to everyone – no matter who you are, or where you live, or what you care about: climate and water. And as you know, they are closely intertwined.

Whether we’re looking at waste water, or drinking water, or how climate change is affecting our water resources, EPA is doing that work to protect people’s health.

On climate, let me being my saying we’ve done an awful lot in the Administration already. We’ve tried to turn the tide to provide domestic leadership. And as a result of that, we were enormously successful in Paris in developing a concerted international effort to address climate change - which many of you and I would agree is one of the most difficult public health, environmental, national security, and safety challenges of our time.

We have already moved forward on cars and trucks. We’re doing more with trucks than we did before. We’ve moved forward on methane in landfills and we’ve done some oil and gas work. Now we’re doing more. So there is tremendous momentum. One of the things that may not be well understood is that we have moved forward with our Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions in the power sector. It’s a wonderful opportunity to intersect with much of the work that you are doing.

It is an effort to actually follow the energy transition that is already happening in the states. Because it’s quite amazing if you go out and look at how the world is already changing. And that’s what the Clean Power Plan was identified and designed to follow.

The U.S. solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. So if you go out to talk to universities, kids want to talk about renewables. They want to find out where those jobs are moving forward.

Renewable energy costs have absolutely plummeted. We now see wind becoming such a much bigger force in terms of its ability to deliver energy than it has ever been before. And we have long-term extensions of the renewable energy tax credit, which is really continuing the momentum. So the energy world is changing. How we’re delivering it, the rise of renewables as well as energy efficiency, and it’s the kind of market momentum that the Clean Power Plan anticipated.

So if you’ve been reading that this is all now at a halt and the energy world is at a standstill because we had a Supreme Court decision to stay the Clean Power Plan, I want to remind you that the market is not driven by the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan is following the market. The world is still changing in the direction we expected. We do not expect to lose momentum because of the stay.

Now, as many of you know, EPA, no matter what we do, gets legally challenged. We expected this to go through the courts. It will get there. And we will keep working with states that voluntarily want to keep moving forward. And there are, in fact, many that will do that. So we will continue the work.

But one of the things I wanted to make sure that you understood is that there’s going to be a lot of work going on, even between now and the end of the Administration. And we’re going to continue to move forward as quickly as we can.

As I said before, we’re going to continue to talk to states about work they’re doing in the energy world. We’re also going to look at what actions we can take to improve fuel economy in heavy duty vehicles. We’re going to start finalizing more work in oil and gas – and looking at tackling methane emissions in that sector. We’re going to be looking at international work on hydrofluorocarbons – which are chemicals with extremely high global warming potential.

So progress is going to continue. But one of the most interesting areas where I’m hoping you’ll all start looking is the area between energy and water, and between water and climate. Because that’s where the rubber meets the road and that is where there are so many opportunities for us to collaborate together.

Now one of the things we tried to generate interest in, in the Clean Power Plan was creative solutions to look at energy efficiency and drive down energy demand and keep our energy system functioning at a more efficient level, in terms of the emissions of greenhouse gases.

Now that should be a huge opportunity for you. That should be an opportunity for continued investment.

As you know, we’re looking at how we’re aligning our SRF dollars and our support for states and communities to make sure they can take advantage of energy efficiency opportunities and think about them as they’re looking at modifying or building new facilities.

And it’s extremely important. Because when we look at climate change, we’re seeing changes in the amount, timing, form, and intensity of precipitation that are really quite startling. We see it in the Southwest, coastal areas, and really over all the regions. We see changes in precipitation patterns, and intensity, timing of storms and what we need to do to manage it. So we have to keep working together as much as we can.

That’s why EPA last year launched our Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center. It’s an opportunity for us to look at how we finance improvements that are more creative to address the issues that are necessary to invest in.

That’s why we’re looking at WFIA and trying to get some opportunities for funding that in Fiscal Year 2017. Because we need more tools in our toolbox moving forward.

And there is now a national effort being spearheaded by the White House that is looking at issues of infrastructure. Because we need more tools on the table to address resiliency, but we also need more money in the system.

Now let me address that for a few minutes. Because I need to mention Flint before I leave. I can’t not mention it and the communication I’ve had with states and governors on Flint.

I think it’s safe to say that nobody at EPA ever imagined that a city would decide to trade treated water for untreated source water, and then fail to treat it.

And we went to great lengths to work with the state and will continue to do that. We are there in full force. But it’s clear that the system didn’t work to protect that community and we can never let that happen again.

Now, we have great relationships with our state partners. That relationship failed in this instance and we cannot be too trusting of the system. We have to continue to push together to make the investments we need to make and to understand how we can protect all of our communities.

As you know, I sent a letter to governors and to the primacy agencies last month, letting them know that we had to step up our game on the Lead and Copper Rule and its implementation. We had to do more to be transparent. We had to urge investments in infrastructure that was necessary and in new technologies.

There are a wealth of lessons learned out of Flint, and we have to learn them. Unfortunately, that community had to learn those lessons the hard way. And it’s not going to happen again, at least not on my watch. So we have work to do together.

But there is a broader conversation that needs to be had. You know it and I do, too. It’s well beyond the Lead and Copper Rule. And it’s that infrastructure in Flint hadn’t been invested-in in decades. How many communities are facing that very same situation – where you’ve had economic devastation hit a community? All of a sudden they go from 200 to 100 thousand people… and all of us know well that means the system’s going to have trouble. It’s the one system in the world you don’t want too big – that’s your drinking water system.

So we have to look at that. Not only the large systems, but the smaller systems that are facing difficulties. Not just in terms of whether or not the systems are efficient and effective and can deliver the way they’re supposed to. But also what kinds of new and emerging contaminants are we seeing in the water? And what new technologies do we need?

So we will be jump-starting that conversation in a more robust way than ever. And I want to thank you for always being partners in that conversation.

I am talking to an audience that knows better than anyone the challenges being faced and why we can’t rely on the money in SRF to get us where need to go. The backlog of needs is way too great.

So I want to thank you all for your continued to partnership, for an opportunity to talk in a larger way about infrastructure needs, and frankly for an opportunity to thank you all for your help in Flint. I can’t thank John Sullivan enough for stepping in, and his mayor, my mayor, for welcoming that opportunity.

I also want to thank you for all of your continued help. I know John and the city of Boston and the MWRA have kicked in $100 million to take care of lead in that city, even though they’re doing a great job under the Lead and Copper Rule. But you can bet that the new version is not going to be the same as the old. And I think it’s time for us to step up together.

Thank you very much everybody.