Gina McCarthy is a glutton for climate work.
After spearheading climate policies for both the Obama and Biden administration — and with a stint leading a national environmental group in between — McCarthy is back in the climate arena.
Before she left the Biden White House, McCarthy promised she wouldn’t “ride off into the sunset” after she left the administration because there would still be more to do on climate.
She kept her word.
Seven months after leaving the Biden team, she’s back in Boston. She’s spending more time with her family — including regular stints watching her grandkids — but also has “a bunch of new jobs” in the climate realm, McCarthy told E&E in a recent interview.
She’s advising private equity firms on their climate- and sustainability-focused investments. She’s doing a climate fellowship at her alma mater, Tufts University; working with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on climate; and co-chairing a group coordinating climate policies between the United States and India.
After working on domestic policies as the Obama EPA administrator and as Biden’s national climate adviser, McCarthy wanted to shift more toward international climate work when she left the White House, she said.
“I recognized that I’m under some constraints about domestic work and discussions,” she said. “I don’t want to run afoul of all the ethics obligations.”
She wanted to encourage the private sector “to invest in the developing world, in the Global South,” she said. “And I’ve been embarrassed by the fact that the U.S. isn’t able to get Congress to actually give money that’s been promised to the developing world.”
McCarthy reconnected with Pegasus Capital Advisors LP, a private equity firm that she previously advised during the Trump administration. She rejoined Pegasus as a senior adviser, “which means I pretty much get involved in looking at all of the investment opportunities that they have,” she said.
“I wanted to see how to work with the private sector in a way that would start really thinking more seriously about investments in the developing world, and Pegasus is one of the leading global impact investment managers there,” McCarthy said.
She’s also working for TPG Inc., another investment manager. “They do work in the developing world,” McCarthy said. “It’s basically larger scale than what Pegasus does, but it’s much more varied.”
McCarthy is also doing a fellowship at Tufts.. She’s working on climate policy with the Fletcher School, a graduate school for international affairs. She joined a “small group of mighty players,” she said, who “work hand in hand with a number of developing countries in Latin America and Africa and South America to work with them on the development of net-zero plans.”
She’s also doing some climate work with Bloomberg, she said. “I’m working with them to help sort of reshape the America Is All In work that they did,” McCarthy said. That effort started in response to the Trump administration’s decision to pull the United States from the Paris Agreement. The Biden team reentered that agreement in 2021.
And McCarthy is co-chairing the U.S.-India Track II Dialogue, a group coordinating climate policies between the United States and India. John Podesta was co-chairing the group before he went into the White House last year to lead the implementation of the climate law McCarthy helped clinch.
“Prior to doing that, he said, ‘You’re gonna have to take over this,’ because he knew I was leaving. So we shifted seats a little bit,” McCarthy said.
‘That was my swan song’
McCarthy had agreed to stay on the job in the Biden White House for a year, but she wound up extending her time to try to get the massive climate law — known as the Inflation Reduction Act — across the finish line, she said.
“When time was passing and the IRA was sitting there, the only discussions that we had was not whether I would leave then, but how do we get it over the finish line?” she said. “So I left very soon after the IRA because that was my swan song.”
She wanted to have a shot at focusing on how to encourage the private sector to invest in projects to slash emissions. “It was just a new venture for me that I wanted to try before I was too old to brush my own teeth, to have my own teeth,” she said.
McCarthy was on the outside when the Biden administration released its proposal for a major EPA regulation to clamp down on power plant emissions. The version of the rule that EPA crafted when she ran that agency — the Clean Power Plan — was tied up in legal challenges and ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court.
“I’m excited about it,” McCarthy said of the new proposal. “I think they did a good job at slicing the pie so that every piece of that pie was really going to be on solid legal footing from a cost and a legal basis.”
Given the other federal investments in climate, “I don’t know that it had to carry the kind of burden that we were looking at with the Clean Power Plan,” she added.
McCarthy said she’s hopeful that economic benefits will keep the climate law intact even if a Republican wins the White House.
“Frankly, taking climate out of the picture entirely, it’s still the smartest thing in the world that the United States can do to be cost competitive,” she said. And she doesn’t see a future GOP president rolling back the investments in the way some have suggested.
“Now, I’m not suggesting that is the case if that president is [Donald] Trump, but I think that anyone short of that [who is] running for office is going to think twice about what that means, not just for our country, but for the people there they were hired to serve,” she said.
She’s not running
McCarthy has worked in politics for much of her career, but says she has no plans to run for office herself.
“I have never been even mildly enticed by that,” she said.
“I’ve learned a lot about politics since I worked at the local and the state and the federal level,” she added. “I just would not consider it to be very exciting to do.” She prefers to think about policies and regulations “and how to sell it to the politicians and to the people in this country,” she said.
For now, the Massachusetts native is back in Boston, living in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. “It has a beautiful pond and lots of greenery. It’s just fabulous,” she said.
One perk of being back home, she said, is regular hangouts with her four “awesome” grandchildren, ages 4, 3, 2 and 1. McCarthy and her husband, “Nana and Grampy,” have regular babysitting duties. She has a little dog, Rory, who she calls extremely cute and whose only flaw is a “little yippee bark.”
She’s trying to convince her husband that two dogs is better than one. “But I have not succeeded over the past six years, so I don’t expect that I will succeed,” she said.
Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.