Pa. DEP head McGinty links international, domestic policies to job growth

Will 2008 be a lame-duck year for international and domestic action on climate policy? Which '08 presidential candidate will be most successful at creating a climate policy that addresses environmental issues adequately but also considers our nation's economy? Should states be allowed to regulate emissions? During today's OnPoint, Kathleen McGinty, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and former chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, gives her take on the year ahead for climate issues on the state, federal and international levels. Secretary McGinty explains why she believes the Bush administration missed an opportunity to generate jobs by not being more aggressive on the climate policy front. She comments on the EPA's denial of a California waiver to regulate vehicle emissions and also discusses Pennsylvania's environmental initiatives.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Secretary Kathleen McGinty, head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and former chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration. Secretary McGinty was also a deputy assistant to President Clinton. Secretary McGinty, thanks for coming on the show.

Kathleen McGinty: It's nice to be back home.

Monica Trauzzi: Well, we're glad to have you back.

Kathleen McGinty: Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: I want to first start out by talking about what's happening domestically on the climate front and then we'll talk a bit about Pennsylvania's programs.

Kathleen McGinty: Terrific.

Monica Trauzzi: As the former head of CEQ, what's your take on the Bush administration's program, the international climate negotiations that are currently happening?

Kathleen McGinty: Well, I obviously was thrilled to see, at the end of today, an agreement came together. But it is a shame that it had to be last-minute and as non-substantive as it was. My view of this is the same today as it has been, that this represents a terrific lost opportunity for the United States and not just from the environment point of view, but our hemorrhaging loss of jobs in some of the fastest growing technology sectors in the world. We should be leading on these issues for the environment and the economy.

Monica Trauzzi: What about the major emitters meetings that the president is holding? Is there any merit to those?

Kathleen McGinty: Well, I hope so and I think everyone will come with the hope and expectation that positive movement and momentum can happen. At the very least, they are a forum for a further airing out of issues. And I guess, however, that the game though is to try to derive some benefit from those discussions, but anticipating a change in administration so that something actually would be accomplished.

Monica Trauzzi: So, if you were at CEQ today, still heading it up, how would you be advising the president to go about these international negotiations?

Kathleen McGinty: Well, I think to take advantage now of the combination of factors that have come together where there is an enhanced and a seriousness of purpose that we haven't seen before; the severity and intensity of weather systems that have made people aware of what the stakes are here; the feeling of insecurity with respect to energy and the national security threat that that poses to us; the work of Mr. Gore and the other spotlight that has been put on the environmental aspects of the issue. This is time and maybe a better time than ever to capitalize on the will, the determination, and the vision that is out there that wants to move forward and can move forward in a way that is generative of jobs and economic opportunity for the United States.

Monica Trauzzi: And a lot of people say that Kyoto was a failure in many respects, so what should our goal be post-Kyoto on the international level? How should the framework convention be approaching this?

Kathleen McGinty: Well, I would disagree with the premise. I think we have made great strides, the investment that Europe has made for example, in doing the dry runs of figuring out how to work a complex cap-and-trade system. Now, some say, well, the first phase didn't work. It worked according to its design and it is flowing now very seamlessly into the first compliance period. So, I think we have a very good foundation to work from. Do I think that there need to be some new dimensions to the agenda going forward? I do. And the basic one, I think, is one that better brings the developing countries to the table. One of the formulas that might work there is to turn the equation on its head, where the assumption is the bigger your emission obligation, the less economic growth you'll have. And instead to say, look, for those developing countries that are willing to step up and take on big commitments we'll commit, for example, to pooling our purchasing power and buy solar panels, for example, from your country or windmills from your country. And make it an economic growth opportunity in order to secure the most robust emission reductions.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned a new president coming into office in 2009. Do you think that this is basically a lame-duck year in terms of domestic and international climate policy or can stuff actually move this year?

Kathleen McGinty: No, I think it could have been if people did not find the heart and the inspiration at the last minute in Bali to put a roadmap together, but they did do that. And key decisions or key issues can now be worked on during the course of this year. And I think it will be a very productive year enabling quick movement towards the next treaty with the next administration.

Monica Trauzzi: And on the domestic front, the Lieberman-Warner bill has passed through the Senate EPW committee. How does that look to you?

Kathleen McGinty: Well, I have always thought that an economy-wide approach is the way to go since we have the opportunity here of achieving climate pollution reduction anywhere in the planet that help the environment overall. And so taking advantage of that is a good thing. I also think that the innovations that provide allocations and allowances for key technology purposes, for the assistance to developing countries is also an interesting formula that might inform the next treaty as to how we better buy various parties into the treaty.

Monica Trauzzi: So, looking ahead to this year's elections, it looks like it's coming down to Obama, Clinton, McCain, and Romney. Who do you think would be the strongest candidate in terms of climate policy? Is there any one person that's standing out to you who might be able to move these negotiations forward, both internationally and domestically, and also keep the economy in mind?

Kathleen McGinty: Well, I think we have winners on that in three out of those four candidates. Certainly Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have been very strong and outspoken on the issue and have helped to spearhead some important policy initiatives that are very relevant to dialing down climate change pollution. But you have to give Jon McCain his due as well and he has also been a leader on this issue. I think the big disappointment is Mitt Romney. He's been extremely critical and an attack dog on some of these issues that I think now Americans completely understand that we need to take action and that it's in our interest to take action. So he's playing to…I don't know if it's a least common denominator, to me it's a happy story that it's a ever-decreasing number of people who think he's right on the issue.

Monica Trauzzi: The EPA made a very controversial decision to deny California's request for a waiver to cut vehicle emissions recently. Should states be able to implement their own standards for vehicles, for other things? Or is a federal approach the way to go? Does California have the right here?

Kathleen McGinty: I think it's without question that EPA's action was patently illegal. The Clean Air works to enable California to show that leadership, and the burden is on EPA somehow to justify not allowing California to move forward. And, yes, we need leadership from the states because, unfortunately, we've had a vacuum at the federal level. And on this policy in particular I can't imagine why we wouldn't move forward. Pennsylvania has adopted the California tailpipe standards. Even if you assume $1.74 for a gallon of gas, and we're seeing that in the rearview mirror, it still saves Pennsylvania drivers money, $600 or $700 a year. So these are vital policies that both clean up the air, keep money in consumers' pockets, and it's just particularly a shame on this issue, because we're no longer looking to President Bush for leadership. We've given up on that a long time ago. We just asked him to step aside, obey the law, and allow the states to lead.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what are some of the major initiatives that Pennsylvania has undertaken to move towards energy independence and also bearing in mind the economy?

Kathleen McGinty: Several major pieces. We passed a very ambitious renewable portfolio standard and that has led to a tremendous build-out in the renewables industry in Pennsylvania. We've probably created about 3000 jobs, $2 billion of new investment with some of the world's biggest wind companies. Solar, biofuels companies now headquartered in Pennsylvania. On top of that, we're making a major drive towards conservation and efficiency. So, we have legislation pending now that would say all electricity demand growth in the state would have to be met through demand-side management, conservation, and efficiency. That one measure alone, we think, would cut electricity bills by about a billion dollars a year. The PAFE tailpipe standards are very important part of our strategy as well, 33 percent reduction we'll realize from those standards in the transportation sectors' contribution to greenhouse gas pollution. When you add it all up, we have the better part of about a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 levels that we could see by 2025 in Pennsylvania.

Monica Trauzzi: All right and how important is something like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to which Pennsylvania is an observer? How important is that in educating the rest of the country about what regions, and eventually the entire country, can do on the climate front in reducing emissions?

Kathleen McGinty: Well, I think they've been very important, taking the ideas and the concepts and bringing them down to workable policies, programs that have definition, that have the details worked out. And those initiatives, actually, are continuing now into areas like financial technology to be able to ensure that a carbon credit is serialized, is tracked, can literally be traded like another valuable commodity might in our global marketplace. Those are terrific investments that the states have made and that will be the fundamental underpinnings of a national and then a global system on trading carbon related emissions.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. One of the challenges facing the private sector and the government is educating consumers about these new, cleaner technologies that they might not be aware of or be familiar with. How is Pennsylvania approaching that challenge of educating the citizens of the state?

Kathleen McGinty: Well, what we're finding is that these really are pocketbook issues. And as we see the driving public pulling up to the pump and paying three dollars a gallon, they have demanded more incentives and more availability of fuel-efficient vehicles for example. We similarly have been putting incentives out there for LEED certified buildings. And at this point we're second only to California in the number of LEED certified projects that we have finalized. And so I think the demand is out there. It takes little incentive to catalyze a huge request by the public to see more opportunity for these kinds of savings.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We'll end it right there. Thanks for coming on the show.

Kathleen McGinty: Thank you very much.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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