New EPA chief visits China to talk air pollution in first trip abroad

December 10, 2013
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy embarked on her first international trip this week, visiting China to talk about collaborating with that country to combat air pollution and climate change.

In a speech on Tuesday morning, the EPA chief planned to commend China for confronting those environmental issues with “urgency and commitment,” in addition to talking about U.S. efforts to do the same, according to her prepared remarks, which EPA officials provided to The Post.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“The road ahead will be tough, but we all benefit from our continued collaboration, sharing our experiences and expertise,” McCarthy’s statement said. “In the end, it’s about protecting and supporting our people and our economies — today and for generations to come.”

McCarthy’s trip comes less than six months after President Obama outlined a series of domestic energy and climate policies that his administration plans pursue on its own in coming years due to Congress’s inaction on those issues. The strategy involves imposing new limits on carbon dioxide from existing power plants and expediting the development of wind and solar power on public lands, among other measures.

As for China, the citizens of that nation have grown increasingly frustrated with their government’s handling of environmental issues in recent years, as air pollution has choked many  industrial cities and their surrounding areas.

In one example, a Chinese town virtually closed down in October after an air pollutant known as PM2.5 reached levels 40 times higher than the concentration considered safe by the World Health Organization.

MORE: Chinese city shut down by off-the-charts pollution

The Chinese government is feeling pressure from its citizens to make changes, and its ministries have started to collaborate more on regional air-quality planning, according to an EPA official who was not authorized to speak for attribution.

“What we’re seeing now is more of a whole-of-government approach,” the official said. “That, for us, was a bit of a pivot-point in the way the Chinese government has engaged the issues — they are engaging in a way that we think is quite positive.”

The EPA plans to focus on providing technical advice to China during its trip, and “no one is pointing fingers,” the official said.

McCarthy’s visit includes co-chairing a joint committee on environmental cooperation, a speech at the Tshingua University School of Envirionment in Beijing, along with a roundtable discussion on green businesses in Shanghai.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestion.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Washington Post · December 10, 2013