December 29. By Michael Sales. President-elect Biden has announced that Gina McCarthy, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will serve as the first National Climate Advisor to head the newly formed White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy.
McCarthy grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Anthropology at UMass Boston and received a Master of Science in Environmental Health Engineering and Planning and Policy in 1981 from Tufts University. She has served as environmental adviser to five Massachusetts governors, including Mitt Romney.
From 2004 to 2009, she was commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. In this capacity she implemented a regional policy to trade carbon credits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
In 2013, McCarthy was nominated to be the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She was confirmed after a record 136-day confirmation fight, becoming the face of Obama’s global warming and climate change initiative.
In late May 2018, McCarthy became director of the Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment. Beginning in early 2020, McCarthy served as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Reflecting on the uniqueness of McCarthy’s move to the NRDC, one commentator observed that “It’s become increasingly rare to see individuals [holding] a high government office mov[ing] into issue advocacy. There’s a norm that it is both acceptable and expected that people will leave public service to ‘make some real money.’”
Under McCarthy, the NRDC was an aggressive challenger to the Trump administration’s environmental policies, filing more than 100 suits over a range of deregulatory actions and winning more than 90 percent of the resolved cases. Its victories include reinstating a ban on oil drilling in the Arctic and penalties for automakers who violate emissions rules.
The Trump administration’s actions on the clean energy mercury rule especially infuriated McCarthy. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can lead to impaired vision, muscle weakness and changes in mental function. Children and unborn infants are the most vulnerable. When she headed the EPA, McCarthy was intimately involved in drafting the rule, which she said was broadly accepted by all parties. “I had been working on mercury standards for 12 years. Who doesn’t know that mercury is bad for you? It’s the origin of the phrase mad as a hatter.”
A 2013 speech offers insight into McCarthy’s views as an elder climate activist:
“We could really risk the future of my grandchildren. And so you sit there and think, Okay, how old are they going to be in 2050? You know, they’re going to be, like, babies still, in the course of life. Everything that I thought I was working towards, which is really protecting my family and other families from damage from pollution, particularly—that was all at risk. And I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore.
My life has been dedicated to protecting our environment and I see no greater and more urgent threat to public health than climate change.”