EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at the Virginia Coastal Policy Center’s Climate Change Conference, as Prepared


Hello everyone! I’m absolutely thrilled to be here. I want to extend my thanks to William & Mary for having me.

Today I want to talk about the amazing things our nation’s landmark environmental laws have enabled us to do to protect public health and the environment.

We’ve seen so much progress around the world, across the country, and right here in Virginia. Change is happening all around us – at every level and every scale.

As someone who’s been in this business for more than thirty years, I can tell you, it’s an exciting time to work on environmental protection – really unprecedented.

And if you haven’t noticed … it’s been keeping us pretty busy at the EPA.

In the past few months alone, we’ve launched a host of new and improved protections for the American people.

Last month, we finalized a stronger Ozone Rule under the Clean Air Act to better protect Americans from the health threats of ground level ozone. The rule is going to protect the health of more people, and it will do it according to the law and the science. Nothing more, nothing less.

Earlier this summer we finalized a historic Clean Water Rule under—you guessed it—the Clean Water Act to better protect the streams and wetlands that are the foundation of our country’s water resources. The clean water rule also follows the law and the science. So I’m confident that it will stand up to any legal challenges that come our way.

In September, we announced a stronger Worker Protection Standard to safeguard our nation’s two million agricultural workers and their families. With this standard, they’ll have the health protections they’ve needed for far too long.

We also put out rules around steam electric power plants and refineries that will help safeguard those who need it. But what I want to focus on today is how far we’ve come in this country on the issue of climate change. Because we’re at a critical moment.

Later this month, nearly every nation on earth will gather in Paris to set a course for climate action that will protect our planet for generations to come. And under President Obama’s leadership, our country has shown the world that real progress is possible.

We’ve set historic greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards that will send our cars twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade.

We’ve made unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in U.S. homes, buildings, and appliances—actions that will save consumers billions of dollars.

We’ve acted to reduce pollution from HFCs and methane – potent greenhouse gases that are highly damaging to our climate system.

In fact, just last week, I was in Dubai with leaders from around the world. We agreed to continue working together on a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol that would reduce global production and consumption of harmful HFCs.

Our private sector is stepping up in big ways. They’ve recognized markets are changing. They’re seizing those opportunities. And they’ve already committed billions of dollars to scale up investments in clean energy innovation.

And of course, in august, we issued EPA’s historic Clean Power Plan, a Clean Air Act rule that puts the U.S. on track to slash carbon pollution from the power sector. That’s our nation’s biggest driver of climate change.

So, we’re leading by example. And in my own lifetime, I’ve seen progress to heal our environment that makes me sure we’re up to the climate challenge.

Some of you might be old enough to remember that 50 years ago, we pumped toxic leaded-gas into our cars; people smoked on airplanes; and residents of Los Angeles could hardly see each other across the street.

As a kid in Massachusetts, I remember getting out of the water at Boston Harbor beaches, and having to literally peel the oil and tar off my skin.

Four and a half decades later, our work together has changed all of that. We’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent; we’ve phased out leaded gas; we’ve cleaned up beaches and waterways; and we’ve helped keep our kids healthy… all while our national GDP has tripled.

We’ve proven time and again that a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand. And that we don’t act despite the economy; we act because of it.

Smart regulation internalizes the costs of pollution into the cost of doing business—all the while guided by science and the law.

Our success is judged by how well we send clear market signals for the private sector to see and follow. That’s how it works.

We set up the ground rules, and then get out of the way to let the market do the rest. Success means building a resilient marketplace where businesses thrive and investment flows to environmentally-smart technologies.

We’re already seeing this happen. Because innovation has brought solutions to our doorstep.

Today, the U.S. is generating three times as much wind power, and 20 times as much solar power as we did when President Obama first took office. Since 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system in the U.S. has dropped by 50 percent. Our solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy; and today, every major U.S. automaker offers electric vehicles.

We’ve come so far. But we can’t go the distance alone.

Nations around the world will have to come together in Paris and commit to leaving our kids a planet that’s healthy, safe, and full of promise. And I have every confidence they will.

But even as we think about the big picture—whether it’s sweeping global agreements, or our landmark national policies—we’re going to need states, communities, and institutions like this one to actually implement them.

That’s what turns promises of protection into reality on the ground. And that’s where you come in.

Because impacts happen at the local level – in cities and towns, in neighborhoods, and in states all across the nation. You know that better than anyone.

Science tells us that our Chesapeake is warming—putting key plants and animals in jeopardy. And it’s also getting more acidic, threatening the oysters and crabs we all love.

Out in our mountain streams, spawning season for the Smallmouth Bass is shifting. And along the coasts—communities are dealing right now with the effects of rising seas….from the low-level towns in Tidewater Virginia, to Tangier Island, and beyond.

The Chesapeake is our nation’s largest estuarine ecosystem. It’s a national treasure, plain and simple. We’ve got to stay vigilant about the effects of climate change on the Bay.

And to do that, we’ve got to keep supporting the incredible work that’s happening at the state and local level. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

There are so many great examples of partnership right in your own backyard.

EPA’s Region 3 office is working with the City of Newport News in its south east community as one of the agency’s 50 target communities to make a visible difference. That includes better serving those who are overburdened by environmental impacts.

And this very Center is partnering in the same community with the Southeast CARE Coalition and the Greater Southeast Development Corporation on social vulnerability and climate resilience work that is absolutely critical.

Right now, Virginia Sea Grant has a proposal out for a NOAA grant to test resilient design in area communities with partners from across the region.

And of course, our east-coast epicenter of military activity is here in Hampton Roads. So much essential work is going on there to ensure the security of the nation and the economic vitality of this region. By necessity, that includes work to better understand climate impacts, and build our regional resilience.

The point is, in all of these efforts, whether it’s a program in one community, or a nation-wide policy, or an international negotiation happening at the UN, everyone is playing a role.

And we’re moving the needle in the right direction. But we need to keep going together. Our battles against climate change and other environmental impacts can’t all be fought and won inside the Beltway.

We need states, cities, citizens – and schools – to roll up your sleeves, like you have been, and join us. So I urge you to go out into your communities and share what you know.

Tell them how much this country needs the Clean Power Plan to unleash innovation and create jobs. Prove to them that an energy transformation is already underway, and that EPA’s work is accelerating our progress. Show them why acting on climate will make our neighborhoods safer and healthier for generations to come.

We’ve done so much together to support citizens right here in Virginia and across the country. But there is so much more work to do. So let’s keep it up.

Thank you.