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Climate Change, Carbon Pollution Focus of EPA Administrator's Visit

By Lori Atherton
Sept. 30, 2013

Citing climate change as "one of the most significant public health threats of our time," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy urged a crowd gathered at Michigan Law School to take action to safeguard the health of current and future generations.

Gina McCarthy, U.S. EPA AdministratorThe EPA administrator visited the Law School Sept. 26, where she gave the keynote address for the Environmental Law and Policy Program conference. (Watch the video.) Her talk—delivered to a standing-room-only crowd in Hutchins Hall—focused on President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which aims to curb the carbon pollution that fuels climate change. As part of that plan, McCarthy noted, the EPA recently announced standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.

"Each year, power plants account for about 40 percent of the nation's carbon pollution," McCarthy said. "To put it in context, power plants pollute more than every boat, plane, train, and car in the U.S. combined. They are not an insignificant source of carbon pollution.

"If you want to talk about existing power plants and how you can get those cleaner, you have to start with new power plants."

(View an image gallery from the ELPP conference.)

The new carbon emission rules provide an opportunity, McCarthy said, to educate the general public on what climate change is and isn't. "Climate change is really about public health," she said, citing water and air pollution, an increase in tick- and mosquito-borne diseases, and extreme weather conditions as examples of the types of "dangers" climate change can create.

Despite the serious topic, McCarthy peppered her talk with jokes and anecdotes, including poking fun at her confirmation process. Appointed by President Obama in 2009 as assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, she was confirmed as administrator of the agency in July 2013 following months of scrutiny from Republicans during the confirmation hearings.

McCarthy challenged audience members as well as those in the technology industries to "figure out how to turn environmental challenges into economic opportunities," just as the automotive industry did in designing more fuel-efficient vehicles.

She applauded the University's ongoing efforts to drive environmental changes at both the local and state levels, and highlighted its environmental justice program in the School of Natural Resources, the University's Planet Blue sustainability initiative, and the work of U-M graduate students years ago in developing Ann Arbor's first Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Strategy.

"The way in which this university nurtures its students to think—multi-disciplinary rather than unidisciplinary—is the only path forward for us to go," she said. "It is the way in which we can begin to tailor the solutions of today to the challenges of today and tomorrow. I have great faith that you can do this…and I really believe the vitality, economy, and health of our future rests in your hands."

Following her talk, McCarthy participated in a Q&A session moderated by David Uhlmann, Jeffrey F. Liss Professor from Practice and director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program.

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