Last Friday, new EPA chief Gina McCarthy faced the nation to announce new carbon emission limits for power plants. Her first stop that morning was the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to explain the proposed limits to the mainstream press. Her second stop might surprise you: It was less than a mile away at the Washington Convention Center, where the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation was holding its 43rd annual legislative conference.
McCarthy’s message to her second audience was blunt: These new regulations were designed to protect people, and in particular, underserved communities that will bear the brunt of climate change. Fighting climate change, in other words, is a matter of environmental justice.
“Climate change is not about polar bears, which I think are cute,” McCarthy said during the unannounced visit. “It’s about people. It’s about water, wastewater, and the infrastructure that is under our water. It’s about the sewers that are backing up and overflowing all at the same time. It’s about our drinking water supplies.”
The speech was a clear reminder of how the Obama administration’s environmental arm has framed the conversation around domestic climate change impacts: Officials have turned away from talk of protecting the Earth and toward a focus on protecting communities at risk. This focus on environmental justice was championed by Obama's first EPA chief, Lisa Jackson, and despite consistent attacks from climate- and safety-net-denying conservatives, it is the context the EPA continues to embrace.