EPA chief: Climate skeptics 'sad'

Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyPruitt granted extension to file financial disclosure form Pruitt's 24/7 security requested over fears of Trump policy backlash EPA documents detail threats against Pruitt MORE on Thursday made a forceful case for action on climate change, arguing moves should be made not "despite the economy" but "because of it."

McCarthy ripped climate skeptics for bashing the administration's signature rule on carbon pollution from power plants, saying it's "sad" they would "hide behind the word 'economy' to protect their own special interests."

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The administrator's speech signals a shift from the EPA, as it seeks to build public support for its climate change agenda, with officials increasingly making the case on the economic battlefield.

If President Obama doesn't take action, McCarthy argued, then the U.S. will be pushing global temperatures up with the rest of the world, damaging the economy in the process.

If the globe warms to 3 degrees Celsius, instead of 2 degrees, McCarthy said, it will cost the U.S. $150 billion based on 2014 gross domestic product.

"You do the math," she said at a talk hosted by the environmental think tank Resources for the Future.

The EPA director cited steps taken by companies like General Mills, Coca-Cola and more, which have called climate change impacts on water resources and crops a "threat to commerce."

For those reasons, she said, the U.S. must lead and not wait for other nations to get on board.

"We don’t hide behind the inaction of other nations as an excuse for mediocrity," McCarthy said. "We set the bar for solutions. We set the pace for progress."

"Can you imagine President Kennedy looking up at the moon and saying, 'Nah ... we’ll just wait for someone else do it."

Before McCarthy finished her speech on Thursday, coal groups started to push back against her numbers.

"Administrator McCarthy must be wishing on a star to compare President Kennedy’s space mission, which had real-world benefits, to President Obama’s climate plan," said Laura Sheehan, of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Sheehan repeated an argument often used by Republicans in Congress who oppose the president's climate plan, saying it would hurt the economy, kill energy jobs and do little to curb global warming.

The administration ran a "full-court press" this week to shore up support around the president's speech at the United Nations climate summit.

McCarthy noted that the majority of concerns she heard when joining Obama in meeting was around "business" woes caused by a changing climate.