SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A forthcoming report of the National Climate Assessment points to rising season temperatures and concludes, quote, "evidence for a change in climate abounds from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean." President Trump has disparaged climate change as a hoax, said the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accords that have already been ratified by a 159 nations because they place, quote, "draconian financial and economic burdens on the U.S." He's overturned more than a score of environmental policies, including the approval of a Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, lifting a freeze on new coal leases on public lands and ending a mandate for federal agencies to include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental impact statements.
Gina McCarthy was head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama and was an environmental adviser to five Massachusetts governors, Democratic and Republican, and commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. She joins us from WBUR in Boston. Thanks so much for being with us.
GINA MCCARTHY: Good to be here with you, Scott. And if you're trying to depress me, you did a pretty good job of it with that intro.
SIMON: Well, do you feel years of your work have been undone in six months?
MCCARTHY: No, actually, I don't. I do recognize that we're living in very uncertain times. And we're with an administration that seems to - its vision of the future is to roll back two decades ago in the past. You know, I remain very hopeful that over time, the system will prevail, that the laws in this country will be upheld. And I'm already seeing that when these decisions are being challenged in court, that there's a good likelihood that the courts will see that this isn't what the EPA or this administration is supposed to be doing.
SIMON: What about the argument though that, you know, President Trump was elected and the American people had their eyes open, and he thought climate change was a hoax, and he was elected president?
MCCARTHY: Generally what I see, having lived through Republican and Democratic administrations, is that it's OK to have different policy ideas and in ways of achieving progress in this country. I'm just not seeing any of those ideas articulated. Policy and politics is different from science. Instead of saying that the science is somehow discredited or not viable, they're simply denying it because it doesn't align with their political interests. And frankly, that old tired idea that you can't have a clean environment and a strong economy or that the Paris Agreement is going to stifle the economy in this country is just ludicrous. There is no information to back that up.
SIMON: Well, how so? Follow up on that as you see it, if you could.
MCCARTHY: President Trump is selling the United States short. We have the innovators. We have the technology developers. This is not just an opportunity to save the future for our kids, but it's an opportunity to take advantage of the economic benefits that we would accrue by using our best and brightest minds to actually find that path forward. Why would we decide that we want to cede that to other countries, in particular to China and the EU, who are really already stepping up to fill that gap?
SIMON: Well, but that base has a legitimate interest, doesn't it? I mean, a lot of people feel that they're losing out.
MCCARTHY: Well, they do have legitimate interests. They have as much interest in clean air and clean water as you and I do. And in fact, in many ways, they struggle most with that in the rural communities, where there are significant environmental challenges that have yet to be addressed. So I understand that there are challenges economically in these areas. But wouldn't it be a lot better if you didn't pretend like coal was coming back and instead go in and identify the economies of the future for those individuals?
SIMON: You're a longtime civil servant in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Seems to me every couple of weeks, we read about employees leaving the Environmental Protection Agency because they say they just can't work for the current administration. Do you think they have a good idea?
MCCARTHY: Well, there's about 15,000 people at EPA that I have - that I begged from November till when I left on January 20 at noon time to stay with the agency. You know, I knew it would be difficult. I honestly, Scott, didn't know it would be as tough as it is today because they're not just trying to roll back rules, they're really trying to defund and dismantle the agency itself.
So I understand the fact that they feel like the mission of the agency is not being served and they don't want to be part of it. But no, it's not OK for them to leave. You know, they're career public servants. Their job is to inform the political folks. I love them deeply. I understand and respect their decisions if they leave, but I want them to stay and know that their voices will eventually be heard.
SIMON: Gina McCarthy was administrator of the EPA under President Obama. Thanks so much for being with us.
MCCARTHY: Thanks, Scott, for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.