On June 25, President Obama delivered a bold, sweeping speech laying out his plan to fight global warming. The plan sidesteps a gridlocked Congress and instead relies on an existing law—the Clean Air Act, which allows EPA to enact tough regulations on coal-fired power plants—to redirect the U.S. energy economy. His pick to head the agency, Gina McCarthy, will be at the center of the controversial plan—and the fierce pushback.
McCarthy, 58, an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts with a thick South Boston accent, a ready sense of humor, and a reputation as a straight shooter, comes to the job after 30 years of working on environmental regulations at the state and federal levels. And, as a top target of Republicans and the fossil-fuel industry, she knows full well the challenges and the high political profile that come with the job. McCarthy will shape the president's climate legacy. Some environmentalists have already nicknamed her "Obama's green quarterback."
She has spent the past four years as EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation. During Obama's first term, McCarthy wrote many of the clean-air regulations that led Republicans to charge him with waging a "war on coal." But she has also won a reputation among the industries she'll regulate, including coal plants, oil companies, and automakers, as a fair and honest broker, a regulator who is serious about conservation but also listens to industry concerns. Climate change, McCarthy said at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, "is one of the greatest challenges of our generation and our great obligation to future generations. I am convinced that those steps can and must be pursued with common sense."
From 2004 to 2009, McCarthy was head of Connecticut's EPA. Before that, she spent 25 years as a health and environmental-protection official for Massachusetts, during which she worked for five governors of both parties—including Mitt Romney, who tasked her with authoring a state climate-change plan. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts (Boston) and received a joint master's of science in environmental health engineering and planning and policy from Tufts University.