[By Jeremy Brecher, Labor Network for Sustainability]

American workers need jobs.  They also need protection from chemicals and pollutants that threaten their lives, health, environment, climate, and future.  Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has a unique track record in protecting the environment in ways that also protect and expand jobs.

For the past four years as head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, Gina McCarthy has exemplified protection of the environment based on US laws and scientific facts combined with common sense strategies to ensure that such regulation promotes rather than hurts jobs.  In testimony at a recent Senate confirmation hearing, for example, she called fighting climate change “one of the greatest challenges of our generation and our great obligation to future generations.”  But she pointed out that, along with public health benefits, those efforts can “create markets for emerging and new technologies and new jobs.”

In an interview with the Labor Network for Sustainability Gina McCarthy elaborated:

We learned a long time ago that you don’t need to pit the economy against public health.  Why would we want to?  How is that to anybody’s advantage?  I think labor can speak to that better than anybody can.  And we look forward to them doing that, and continuing to work with us, so we get the protections we need and the American people want “” but we do it in a way that is as sensitive as possible, as flexible as possible, in a way that doesn’t just protect jobs but that grows them today and tomorrow.

Speaking of EPA regulations of toxic pollutants from utilities under the Clean Air Act, McCarthy said:

Our rules will generate jobs tomorrow, not a decade from now, but will put steelworkers back to work, will put electrical workers back to work, because they will require control technologies while we look at how to reduce carbon emissions through greater efficiencies.  We’re not about jobs, we’re about public health, but we sure like it when it creates jobs and it creates them today when we actually need them.

Gina McCarthy’s track record reveals her commitment in deeds as well as words.  For example, as EPA’s official in charge of implementing the Clean Air Act, Gina McCarthy helped lead the process to establish mileage and tailpipe emissions standards for cars and trucks.   For years, such regulations were stymied by lawsuits, political warfare, and public campaigns claiming they would hurt the automobile industry and destroy jobs.  But Gina McCarthy helped bring together the auto industry, the United Auto Workers, and other stakeholders to work out a common approach.

Was the result good for workers?  Here’s what the UAW’s legislative director testified to Congress: “Based on our experience, the regulation of mobile sources has been a “win-win” that results in greater oil independence for our nation; a cleaner, healthier environment for ourselves and our children; and an increased number of jobs in the auto sector.”

This job creation resulted from “the new technology required to meet tailpipe emissions standards” which “represents additional content on each vehicle.”  That requires “more engineers, more managers, and more construction and production workers.”

Indeed, “The continuing recovery of the automobile industry in the United States has as its foundation the regulatory certainty of these tailpipe emission standards, which is driving innovation in every company and in every vehicle segment.”

Regulations developed by McCarthy’s office in cooperation with the Department of Transportation had other benefits for working people.  “Greater fuel efficiency allows consumers to spend less on fuel, which frees up that money to be spent on other goods and services, rather than flowing to the producers of oil for the U.S. market, the majority of which comes from foreign nations.”

So, “in addition to creating jobs, these regulations are a key mechanism for protecting American families and their standard of living from the effects of rising and unstable oil prices. In other words, this is a bread and butter issue for American families.”

EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act “” a program administered by Gina McCarthy “” has been attacked by opponents of climate protection as a “job killer.”  However, although any technological modernization can lead to the loss of some jobs, overall the evidence indicates that instead that regulation will increase jobs.  For example, a study by Ceres and the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts titled “New Jobs — Cleaner Air: Employment Effects of Planned Changes in the EPA’s Air Pollution Rules“ examines the jobs effects of some of the new regulations “” ones that have been harshly attacked by EPA critics. This well-documented study finds that far from being “job killers,” the new regulations will create nearly 300,000 new jobs, especially skilled, high-pay jobs for engineers, project managers, electricians, boilermakers, pipefitters, millwrights, and iron workers.

The regulations would lead to net job increases of more than 120,000 job years in Illinois, 123,000 in Virginia, 113,000 in Tennessee, 76,000 in North Carolina, and 76,000 in Ohio. The study points out that regulation will have many other benefits in addition to increased employment. It will ensure cleaner air, improve public health, promote more efficient, more competitive technologies, reduce greenhouse gasses, and increase state tax revenues. And it will stimulate “induced jobs” that result when workers have money in their pockets to buy things made or sold by other workers.

Gina McCarthy’s confirmation has received support from unions.  The United Steelworkers, the largest private sector union in North America, “strongly endorses” her nomination, saying she is “eminently qualified” to work in “reducing climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, recognizing the delicate balance between maintaining good manufacturing jobs and a clean environment.”

Gina McCarthy is a long-established air quality expert, aptly fitted to work with manufacturers on reducing power plant emissions. Our union has enjoyed a good working relationship with Ms. McCarthy in her role as the head of the Office of Air and Radiation at the U.S. EPA, and we look forward to continue working with her as EPA Administrator.

The BlueGreen Alliance, which includes such major labor unions as the USW, CWA, SEIU, Utility Workers, AFT, ATW, UAW, UFCW, and Sheetmetal Workers, as well as environmental groups, applauded McCarthy’s nomination and noted that “the BlueGreen Alliance and our partners have appreciated the way in which Ms. McCarthy has worked with us over the years to not only address climate change and clean air, but to also better understand the needs and impact of plant workers and surrounding communities.”

Gina McCarthy has a record for bipartisan cooperation that will prove useful in dealing with today’s conflicts over environmental issues.  She worked for five Republican governors in Connecticut and Massachusetts, including George Romney.  Her nomination in 2009 for EPA assistant administrator was approved by Democratic and Republic Senators on a voice vote.

She also has the respect of many industry groups, even some likely to be directly affected by EPA regulation.  Donna Harman, president of the American Forest and Paper Association, says that Gina McCarthy is “very data- and fact-driven, and that’s been helpful for us as well as the entire business community.”  And Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council, says his group’s members “have a lot of confidence in McCarthy’s leadership ability.”