Gina McCarthy: Why I’m more optimistic than ever on tackling the climate crisis
Before taking office a year ago, President Biden called and asked me to join his team.
I had dedicated my entire career to protecting people from threats to their health, safety and security. I worked under six different governors, including five Republicans. I served as former President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator. But I had never heard of a job like the one Joe Biden described.
As the country’s first-ever “national climate advisor,” the president asked me to assemble leaders across his administration to confront climate change with ambition and creativity. And he challenged me to talk about climate not solely as an existential threat to our lives and livelihoods, but as an opportunity for our country to build a clean energy economy that creates jobs, lowers costs and leaves no worker and no community behind.
After one year on the job, I am proud of the progress we have made. And I am more optimistic than ever about our ability to deliver a healthier, safer and more secure future for our children and grandchildren. We have mobilized across government, business, labor and the advocacy community to build partnerships that open up a world of hope and opportunity. We have shown that we can — and we are — acting with the urgency that science demands.
That sense of optimism for our country to come together, grab and lead the 21st-century clean energy economy is what the president campaigned on — and it is what he began to deliver on day one. He rejoined the Paris Agreement. He restored science in the White House. He reestablished American leadership on the world stage at the UN climate conference in Glasgow. And he renewed partnerships with states, territories and Tribal nations to work toward the ambitious goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030.
In just one year, we made the last year the biggest on record for clean energy. We worked across agencies to harness clean power from wind off the coasts and capture solar energy on public lands — creating jobs and lowering energy costs for consumers. The president rallied automakers and autoworkers behind a target of 50 percent electric vehicles (EV) sales share by 2030 — helping spur companies to announce new investments of over $100 billion in the American EV industry. And we launched groundbreaking initiatives to cut methane emissions by capping orphaned oil and gas wells and phase down super-pollutants from air conditioners and refrigerators.
In the first year in office, the president has also secured historic legislative wins on climate. The American Rescue Plan is supporting electric school buses, clean energy job training and revitalization of coal communities. And after decades of debate in Washington over infrastructure, the president worked across the aisle to get it done. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in November, makes our largest investments ever in upgrading our power grid and cleaning up dirty pollution from toxic sites. It also does big, bold things this country has never done before — like helping get clean drinking water to every person in America and building a national network of 500,000 EV chargers. These transformative investments also create jobs where people can join a union, and aim to ensure at least 40 percent of the benefits from climate and clean energy funds reach underserved communities.
We are proud of this historic progress, but the intensifying climate impacts all around us show we need to do more. Last year, more than 80 percent of Americans experienced a heatwave. Wildfires, droughts, floods and hurricanes swept across our country, with extreme weather upending communities and costing more than $145 billion in damages. Even as we take decisive action to help communities recover and build resilience to the impacts of climate change, we must get the job done with the president’s Build Back Better Act — to reduce climate pollution fast while lowering energy bills and the costs of electric vehicles for Americans. It will scale up job creation, improve home energy efficiency, as well as manufacture more wind turbines and solar panels in America.
During our first year, we have worked to fulfill the president’s promise to marshal a swift response to the climate crisis centered on growing our economy and benefiting those most burdened by pollution. Now, it’s time to start of the next — and best — chapter. The future is bright for America’s families, workers and businesses with the bipartisan infrastructure law underway and the Build Back Better Act around the corner.
We won’t stop fighting for that bright future. We have a job to finish, and we’re going to get it done.
Gina McCarthy is President Biden’s national climate advisor. She served as the 13th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Obama and is the former president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
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