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Obama-era EPA administrator urges unification over environmental issues

Gina McCarthy, former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks at 5 p.m. Jan. 16 in the Whittenberger Auditorium in the Indiana Memorial Union.

“Stop moping and start moving,” Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency said in a speech at the Whittenberger Auditorium.

Around 200 people gathered Tuesday to hear McCarthy speak on “The Future of EPA and Our Planet.” Her speech focused on remaining hopeful despite recent rollbacks to the EPA, the importance of unifying on environmental issues and the value of grassroots innovation among other topics.

McCarthy worked at the EPA from 2013 to 2017 under former president Barack Obama. She worked in public service for 35 years at the local, state and federal levels.

Fred Cate, vice president for research at IU, introduced McCarthy. He said he could hardly think of a better way to start 2018 than with McCarthy.

“You are an extraordinary example to our students, many of whom are working towards careers in public health, law, science and public service of all kinds,” Cate said.

McCarthy began her speech with optimism.

“Things are not, as my mother would say, going to hell in a handbasket,” McCarthy said.

She went on to say that in the EPA’s 47 year history, the organization has been successful in delivering clean air, safe water and healthy places for people to work, play and go to school.

Despite this, she said, she feels that we are living in demanding times.

McCarthy said, in many ways, she worries much of what the EPA has done is in question, and not just what has been accomplished during the Obama administration, but the EPA itself.

“I have a sense that a lot of things are up in the air,” McCarthy said. “Not just EPA and science, but in many ways, I worry about democracy itself. I worry about discordance of the facts. I worry about denial of science.”

However, McCarthy said it’s important to be able to step back.

“You just have to realize that you can’t be hopeless, especially in times when hope is so important.”

Amid the environmental talk, McCarthy joked with the audience about her Boston accent.

“Sorry, I’m trying not to put too many “'R’s'” in where they don’t belong or take them out where they do,” McCarthy said. “Having said that, I’m going to say carbon, carbon, carbon as many times as I want.”

McCarthy went on to criticize partisan thinking, not just in politics, but in the divide between urban and rural, east coast and west coast and the north and south.

She pointed to the fact that Theodore Roosevelt started the National Park System and George H.W. Bush was behind the Clean Air Act of 1990. She also mentioned the work of the first head of the EPA, William "Bill" Ruckelshaus, who was from Indiana.

“Nobody is a better human being or environmentalist than Bill Ruckelshaus, a Hoosier,” McCarthy said. “He is a Republican. There's nothing wrong with that, folks.”

McCarthy went on to say that a clean energy revolution is happening in the U.S. and that it does not depend on Washington liking it or investing in it because it depends on the market.

She said all of the progress that has been made environmentally has started out at the grassroots level.

“Much of it has started on the energy and ingenuity of students in universities and academic communities,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said local environment demands can be pushed to the state and eventually, federal level.

She went on to compare the importance investing in maintaining lower pollution levels to maintaining a leaky roof. 

“I don't care if you've put a new roof on 15 years ago, if it's leaking today, it's leaking today,” McCarthy said.

Outside the auditorium, Concerned Scientists at Indiana University, a co-sponsor of the event, sought volunteers to support investment in science research and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby was also seeking volunteers. Richard Durisen, a member of the lobby, said the group lobbies all member of congress to manage climate and energy risk.

“This is one Earth,” McCarthy said. “This is our shared home.”

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