Former EPA Chief Headlines Campus Sustainability Conference

alliance-logo-300x233On March 31, Wesleyan hosted #BeTheChange, Connecticut’s annual Campus Sustainability Conference, featuring former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy as the keynote speaker. Organized by the Connecticut Alliance for Campus Sustainability, the theme of the day-long conference was “Engagement and Empowerment around Climate Change: Fostering Inspiration and Action at the Local Level.”

About 150 students, staff and faculty from the state’s public and private colleges attended the conference, which also included workshop sessions on climate and sustainability action; empowerment on campus; engaging in state policy and legislation; engaging in community and municipal action; and engaging at the grassroots level. Several community members, business representatives and government representatives also attended.

McCarthy was appointed EPA chief in 2013 by former President Barack Obama. One landmark of her four-year tenure occurred in 2015 when she signed the Clean Power Plan, setting the first national standards for reducing carbon emissions produced by power plants. Under McCarthy’s direction, the EPA also made strides in curbing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening chemical safety regulations, and protecting water resources. Previously, as Commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection from 2004-2009, McCarthy led the development of Connecticut’s 2005 Climate Action Plan and the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. McCarthy is currently serving as a Senior Fellow and a Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and T. H. Chan School of Public Health, respectively.

Despite President Donald Trump’s proposals to drastically cut funding to the EPA and other government agencies that work on climate change, McCarthy sounded an optimistic note at the conference, arguing that these efforts to “turn back the clock” on environmental protection and clean energy won’t succeed in the long run. She urged attendees to join her in marching on Earth Day to protest the administration’s actions.

Gina McCarthy, the former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head, was the keynote speaker at #BeTheChange, Connecticut's annual Campus Sustainability Conference held at Wesleyan on March 31.

Gina McCarthy, the former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head, was the keynote speaker at #BeTheChange, Connecticut’s annual Campus Sustainability Conference held at Wesleyan on March 31.


According to The Hartford Courant:

“We all have to get out of our comfort zone… So take off your lab coats,” McCarthy told the Wesleyan climate scientists in the audience, “turn off your Bunsen burners and round up your nerdy friends.”

McCarthy said she isn’t worried about the long-term prospects for moving ahead on clean energy and reducing carbon emissions to counter the effects of global warming and climate change. “The clean energy train has indeed left the station,” she said, arguing that climate change itself “will dictate the future” no matter what Trump does in the short run.

“It’s not unusual for the federal government to get a little confused at times,” McCarthy told a crowd of more than 150 gathered for the Wesleyan conference.

“States like this one have no intention of turning the clock back,” McCarthy said. She added that the U.S. economy and many individual businesses are already committed to the course of clean energy.

McCarthy did say she “feels terrible” for the dedicated people at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who may lose their jobs because of Trump’s plan to cut that agency’s budget by 31 percent.

Read more coverage of McCarthy and the conference on WNPR.

The Campus Sustainability Conference was sponsored by the Wesleyan Green Fund, Connecticut Mattress Recycling Council, Blue Earth Compost and the Connecticut Green Bank, and organized by the Connecticut Alliance for Campus Sustainability.