Tanzina Vega: This is The Takeaway with Tanzina Vega.
Juni Ballou: "Dear Madam Vice President Kamala Harris, you've inspired me so much by being the first female Vice President. My name is Juni Ballou and I'm a 12-year-old living in Athens, Ohio. This is such a huge step for a woman in America today. I now look up to my future in a better, equal America. I hope you and President Biden will address climate disruption and human rights in the upcoming four years. Thank you for being such a great role model, and I wish you the best of luck. Sincerely, Juni Ballou."
Tanzina: You're listening to The Takeaway, I'm Tanzina Vega. President Joe Biden says he wants to make climate change a top priority for his administration, and he doesn't plan on wasting any time. For example, Biden has already pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and to stop the building of the Keystone Pipeline.
This is a drastically different approach to the environment than we saw from President Trump, who for four years worked to roll back more than 100 environmental regulations, many from the Obama administration.
Gina McCarthy served as the head of the environmental protection agency under Obama from 2013 to 2017 and was a key figure in creating many of those regulations. Now McCarthy will become President Biden's first-ever national climate advisor. She spoke to me last week about the steps the Biden administration needs to take in order to reduce our impact on climate change, beginning with reversing the damage inflicted on the EPA.
Gina McCarthy: One of the first things we have to do is to take a look at all of the rollbacks that have been made, many of them not directly related to climate, but directly related to our ability to keep people safe and deliver clean air and water and land.
Fundamental protections have been rolled back. Those are going to have to be immediately addressed so that the rules of the road are clear and compelling and do the mission of EPA, which is to protect public health and the precious natural resources we all depend on.
That's job number one, is to recognize that we're reversing course, we're not going backwards, we're going forwards and we're going to provide US leadership on these issues and serve people. One of those issues has got to be rebuilding our science credibility.
I think we know that not just rollbacks have happened, but science has been sidelined. It's created confusion. It's created dissension in the agencies themselves. They're actually, now that we can see a little bit more inside the agencies as time goes on, we can see that their personnel has been devastated. The budgets have been reduced. Scientists have been relegated to doing work. They have no expertise in.
We see our science advisory boards being basically populated by industry representatives rather than science experts and health experts and environmental scientists who can provide the real opportunity for us to understand the world and its impacts and manage that appropriately.
We have a lot of internal work to do as well as rollbacks to tend to. It is going to be a rebuilding opportunity, but I think in many ways, more importantly, we have to recognize that COVID-19 has really, I think, made it very clear that science is fundamental. If you don't listen to the scientists and pay attention to science, that you do that at your own risk.
Part of the opportunity today is that leading that effort can be a recognition that a clean energy future is going to grow jobs for us again, is going to help stabilize the economy and do it in a way that's going to make our lives healthier today while we build a future that we can hint to our children, that we're going to be proud of.
That's the shift we're making, is certainly we have to clean up what this past four years has meant to the federal government, but we also have to celebrate work that's being done at the state and city level over those four years, which has been very robust.
We have to learn those lessons and then chart a path forward for the people in this country to know that the government's working for them. We do have a path forward, and it's not going to be about sacrifice. Lord knows people across the world are sacrificing enough right now. It's going to be about building us up again.
Tanzina: Gina, let's talk about the transition. You helped the transition for the EPA under the Obama administration to the Trump administration. We know that the Trump administration, particularly President Trump, denied for weeks that the Biden ministration is even coming into office, which delayed the transition so far.
How is the transition going particularly for the EPA, and is any of the delay going to have a long-term effect on how quickly the EPA is going to be able to get up and running when Biden officially takes office?
Gina: Tanzina, I will tell you that the last months of the administration under President Obama was all about ensuring an effective transition, not just a safe one, but understanding that we had to explain where things were, what the opportunities were, what we saw as the challenges ahead. We saw no such commitment from the Trump administration and the folks in control of the agencies.
You're right, we had a significant delay because the President wasn't interested in admitting that he had lost, and so we did lose time. I think the important thing is that we now do have a much more open opportunity to see what's going on in the agencies. We're getting ready for the transition to happen. We think we have what we need to understand the challenges that we're facing and to try to jumpstart from moving backwards to really being part of the world again.
Pro-recognize our opportunities ahead for this country and internationally, and so we'll be ready. We will have a lot of rebuilding to do with no question, but we have a path forward, and we certainly, being a career public servant my whole life, I can't tell you just how I think excited and ready to rock and roll the staff across the federal government are. You can't hold them down for much longer than four years.
I'm sure they've been working closely with their own colleagues to make sure that they're ready for the challenges ahead. I can't wait for the windows and doors to open again for people to see what's going on in government and to free up our career staff to do the jobs they were hired to do. It's going to be an invigorating moment for many thousands of people.
Tanzina: Gina, you have a new role at the White House, it is National Climate Advisor. The Biden administration has been very clear that climate change is real, which I would imagine is where they created the role, National Climate Advisor. What are you going to be doing? How are you seeing that role playing out?
Gina: I'm going to be heading up a small and mighty office in the White House, and I'm going to be advising the President on the efforts that we can take to actually domestically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. That's going to be all about working across the federal government with every single agency to look for the opportunities we have to move towards clean energy, to move towards energy efficiency, to move towards better health and job growth that is built on the economy that we want to have, not the economy of the past.
We are going to work hard with our labor community. We're going to work hard with our states and communities to look at the best and brightest opportunities we have available to us, to invest in clean energy and efficient energy, and make the transition that climate demands. We're going to count every job available and try to get complete access to union jobs and grow again our manufacturing sector so that folks have buy American products again.
We're going to meet the promises in President-elect Biden's plan, which was incredibly robust and aggressive, which talked and committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions so much that by 2035, we would have cleaned power, and by 2050, we would be net-zero in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
I'm excited to be getting us on hopefully a strong footing to meet those goals, but also working across the board with the new cabinet and each and every office so that we can make sure that the federal government is spending its money to send the right signal to the marketplace that clean energy has arrived, it's here. We're going to grow jobs and we're going to look at making sure that any job growth in particular areas is dealt with in a fair and just way. I'm just excited to be part of a larger team with Secretary Kerry, who's now taken over.
Tanzina: Gina, just to interrupt you there. You mentioned Secretary Kerry, and I'm wondering how the two of you will work together given his, also, new role, he will be the Presidential Envoy for Climate? How does that work with what you'll be doing?
Gina: We'll work hand and glove. We already are and frankly, I've had a long-term relationship with Secretary Kerry and I know of no better person to take on this role. Basically, what we understand is that if the United States doesn't send strong signals domestically that we are serious about climate change, then our re-entry into the Paris Agreement, which President-elect Biden has committed to will ring hollow.
It's my job to work with Secretary Kerry to actually develop the best commitment that we can make in the Paris Agreement on the kind of reductions we're going to achieve by 2030. He is going to use those commitments as the entree into once again, participating with our allies and with countries across the world and making sure that there is an international effort to address climate that is consistent with where the science is telling us we have to go.
Tanzina: Gina, President Biden said he wants the country to be carbon neutral by 2050, but how realistic is that?
Gina: I actually think if you look at it, one of the things that interest me is to take a look back at the prior four years and the growth of the clean energy sector. At a time when the federal government did everything humanly possible to stop it, it grew at levels that the experts never projected, even the most aggressive projections never expected us to be where we are today.
That was because states and cities continued to move forward. That's because the population understood that clean energy can be cheaper and why wouldn't they want it because it was better for them and their families.
I think we're missing the boat and understanding that with a full-throttled response from the federal government across every agency to actually make sure that we're moving forward with smart strategies on climate that grow jobs and address the equity challenges we're facing and bring some significant community benefits to the table.
If we do that, we will build a momentum that will far surpass anything that anyone has been analyzing, and there are many computer models and we're going to be able to deliver it.
Tanzina: You sound very optimistic about the future and one of the things that we talk a lot about on this show is hope. We've also talked about environmental anxiety and the psychological duress and stress that people are feeling because of the state of climate around the world. I'm wondering, Gina, if you have anything to say that can direct us to find hope about the future for this planet?
Gina: Well, I've been doing environmental work my whole life, and I've been talking about climate change for a long time. I think part of the change that I see today is the fact that we have solutions to climate change in our midst today that we can deploy at levels that will allow us to make big leaps forward and send the right market signals that will grow the innovation we need. We saw that happening for the past four years.
I know people are afraid. I know people fear about tomorrow, nevermind the future. Let's keep talking about climate change not as a planetary problem, but a problem that actually meets the needs of people moving forward. That is our ability to keep things growing and to grow the economy.
I think if we do that and continue to make it real and relevant to human beings, that we have solutions, let's get them out there. Those solutions are better for them. Then we can build the kind of momentum we need to have the kind of world we want to hand to our children.
I am very bullish that we can do this, and frankly, there's no other choice, but to do this. People get it, they're not denying climate science. All they're wanting is a path forward to work together and one that doesn't hurt them in their pocketbooks or in their health but actually does just the opposite, and we have those opportunities today.
Tanzina: Gina McCarthy is the former head of the environmental protection agency under the Obama administration, and will now be serving as the national climate advisor to President-elect Joe Biden. Gina, thanks for joining us.
Gina: Tanzina, thanks for building hope. I much appreciate it.
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