The era of “simple” environmental problems is over. Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulators face issues, like climate change, that are complex from all angles: scientific, economic and political. At the same time, some of the EPA’s regulatory tools—like the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a law that was crafted decades ago—are cumbersome or inadequate. And there is virtually no chance that our gridlocked Congress will come to the rescue and agree on how to modernize reforms.
This complexity makes Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee for EPA Administrator, precisely the kind of leader the agency needs. McCarthy is a strong environmental advocate, but she is pragmatic about how to achieve an end. She has worked across the aisle and with industry leaders to accomplish the EPA’s goals. As an executive at Intel, I’ve worked with McCarthy over the past four years, while she led the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. She is a problem solver who relies on science, economics and common sense.
One key example is the way she applied a Supreme Court ruling that the EPA can regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Under McCarthy’s leadership, the EPA found a way to address the major sources of air pollution without regulating every neighborhood dry cleaner and gas station, as the act seemed to require. She focused the agency’s new permitting regulations on the bigger, more environmentally significant sources of greenhouse emissions—an approach that helped protect the environment while also growing the economy and encouraging innovation.
In the case of semiconductor manufacturing, the Clean Air Act has threatened our ability to make a product in different ways—a flexibility that has helped the industry expand in the U.S. The act requires permitting that is time-consuming, but not harmful for most companies. These procedural delays, however, hurt the rapid-fire pace of semiconductor production. At Intel we didn’t request, nor did we receive, an exemption from the rule. Instead, we approached McCarthy and the agency about solving these problems, and McCarthy pushed her staff to find a smarter way to apply the statute to the realities of our industry. As a result, Intel and other semiconductor companies can continue to grow and create new, high-wage jobs in American factories. Finding a solution to this problem enabled Intel to follow through on plans to build new U.S. factories and create new U.S. jobs. This sort of leadership has laid the groundwork for a long-term partnership between McCarthy and industry leaders.
Looking forward, one of EPA’s biggest challenges will be implementing the decades-old TSCA, the nation’s principal vehicle for protecting people and the environment from chemicals. Everyone, from chemical manufacturers to environmentalists, agrees that TSCA is broken and needs to be fixed or replaced. To make TSCA work in a world where new chemicals and materials are constantly hitting the market, the EPA must be pragmatic and creative. McCarthy’s track record implementing the Clean Air Act suggests she is up to this challenge.