McCarthy next EPA chief?

McCarthy next EPA chief?

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

Reports are emerging that President Barack Obama is settling on Gina McCarthy for his pick as the next head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Individuals familiar with McCarthy say that the recycling industry will have a friend in Washington should she ascend to the post.

According to reports in Reuters and The Washington Post, Obama is strongly leaning toward selecting McCarthy, currently a high-ranking official in charge of air quality at the EPA, to replace the outgoing Lisa Jackson as administrator of the agency.

McCarthy has been as a top environmental regulator in both Massachusetts and Connecticut under both Republican and Democratic governors before coming to Washington. Those familiar with McCarthy describe her as a committed environmentalist, an effective and knowledgeable public servant and someone who understands the importance of recycling.

"Gina is the kind of person who knows all the environmental issues," says Scott Cassel, the executive director of the Product Stewardship Institute.

In the late 1990s, Cassel worked for McCarthy, who was then undersecretary for policy at the Massachusetts Office of Environmental Affairs, as director of waste policy and planning. He describes McCarthy as having a technically adept, politically savvy, no-nonsense and pragmatic approach that's coupled with a disarming sense of humor.

Cassel says he remembers McCarthy seeking to strike a balance between being supportive of businesses while also protecting taxpayers and the environment. He also notes that her having worked at the local, state and federal level gives her a good understanding of all levels of government.

He also says that she was supportive of finding innovative ways to manage waste and increasing recycling goals. She even helped Cassel form the Product Stewardship Institute and served on its original board.

"She knows that the main goal is not to produce pollution in the first place," says Cassel of McCarthy, noting her background in pollution and toxics reduction.

Steve Long, the director of government relations for the Massachusetts chapter of the Nature Conservancy, worked with McCarthy while he was serving as director of recycling market development at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. He describes McCarthy as a "genuine leader" with integrity and honesty who made sure that relevant agencies had the resources they needed to increase recycling rates.

In her position, McCarthy, who oversaw a cluster of environmental agencies that managed waste and recycling programs, effectively used a combination of carrots and sticks to ensure that they were in sync and working well, he says. Long also says she was particularly thoughtful when the state launched programs for hard-to-recycle products, such as electronics and paint.

"I think Gina was very focused on ensuring that everyone did their fair share whether they were a municipality or agency or a business," he says.

Amy Perlmutter ran the Chelsea Center for Recycling and Economic Development in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Currently an independent consultant, Perlmutter didn't work closely with McCarthy, but says she had a firm grasp on the issues and was supportive of recycling.

"She takes the environment seriously," Perlmutter says. "We would have a friend at the EPA."

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