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Meet Gina McCarthy, a Mass. native who is set to serve as White House climate coordinator

Then-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy signed a proposal under the Clean Air Act to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants during a news conference in Washington on June 2, 2014.
Then-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy signed a proposal under the Clean Air Act to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants during a news conference in Washington on June 2, 2014.REUTERS

Another Massachusetts native — and former Obama administration member — is heading to the White House come January.

President-elect Joe Biden is slated to announce several members of his energy and environment team this week and among them is the reported choice of Gina McCarthy, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, as senior adviser on climate change.

McCarthy, who grew up in Canton and was the health agent for her hometown early in her career, has earned the reputation of a stalwart leader in the fight against climate change over the years.

“Gina is a rock star,” Jenni L. Evans, president of the American Meteorological Society, said of McCarthy in an interview with the Globe last January.

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“We see climate change. It’s there. She will talk about how to think about it,” Evans said. “How do we give people a sense of self-determination and not a sense that they should slit their wrists?”

McCarthy served as the 13th administrator of the EPA and as assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation under President Barack Obama, according to her biography on the Natural Resources Defense Council website.

In these roles, McCarthy led a number of initiatives aimed at reducing planet-warming pollution. The Clean Power Plan set the first national standards that addressed carbon pollution from power plants.

She also pushed for the updating of emissions standards, the establishment of greenhouse gas standards for automobiles, and the promotion of energy efficiency and alternative fuels.

But her policies were widely opposed by oil, gas, and coal industries — and during his time in office, President Trump either repealed or weakened all of them. Trump has rolled back more than 125 environmental safeguards, according to The Washington Post.

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During her time in Massachusetts, McCarthy served as the deputy secretary of the state’s Office of Commonwealth Development and as undersecretary of policy for the state’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

Here, she advised five governors on environmental affairs, “worked at the state and local levels on critical environmental issues, and coordinated policies on economic growth, energy, transportation, and the environment,” according to her biography.

At the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, McCarthy was a professor of the practice in public health in the Department of Environmental Health.

McCarthy is also the chair of the board of directors of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the university, according to her biography on the Harvard Kennedy School website.

She was educated locally as well, earning her master’s degree in environmental health engineering and planning and policy from Tufts University, and her bachelor’s degree in social anthropology from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

In her current role, which she undertook last January, McCarthy serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The organization, which has sued the Trump administration more than 100 times, is composed of over 700 attorneys, scientists, advocates, and policy experts.

As White House climate coordinator, McCarthy will have the power to direct agency heads throughout the federal government to enact climate and environmental policies. Her deputy, according to reports, will be Ali Zaidi, the state deputy secretary for energy and environment in New York.

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Almost a week after Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election, McCarthy penned a blog post on the council’s website, calling the outcome a “unifying call for bold action on climate.”

“As with the pandemic, we need a climate response that’s grounded in sound science, puts people back to work, and expands protections and opportunities for low-income communities and people of color,” McCarthy wrote.

McCarthy wrote that the solutions she outlined “fit hand in glove with Biden’s blueprint for progress on climate, health, jobs, and racial equity.”

“With real benefits for everyone, that’s a plan we should all be able to get behind as a nation, starting with shifting to clean energy — and quickly,” McCarthy wrote.

McCarthy is not the first person from Massachusetts to be tapped by Biden as a climate leader in his White House. She will join John Kerry, the former Massachusetts senator who served as secretary of state in the Obama administration and who has been selected as the nation’s international climate czar.

Environmental leaders saw the news of McCarthy’s reported appointment as an encouraging sign Tuesday night.

Mindy Lubber, CEO and president of the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, of which McCarthy is a board member, said with McCarthy and Kerry set to take on key climate roles in the White House, the federal government “is now well-positioned to support efforts at home and abroad to tackle the climate crisis while also protecting human health and the environment.”

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“As the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, it is beyond critical that the US cut emissions nearly in half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2040,” Lubber said in a statement.

Lubber continued: “We are hopeful that under the leadership of Gina McCarthy, the US will be able to help right the ship as it begins its journey back to improving its standing in the world as a climate leader.”

Bill McKibben, environmentalist and founder of the nonprofit 350.org, said the selection of McCarthy “is an inspired choice.”

“[McCarthy] knows bureaucracies, and she knows the issues, and she’s funny and tough and I’m pretty sure she understands we’re out of time,” McKibben wrote in a tweet. “And Ali Zaidi as deputy is no slouch either.”

Garrett Blad, national press coordinator for the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said McCarthy was one of the organization’s picks to lead a new domestic climate office because “she understands the urgent threat of the climate crisis.”

“The real test, however, of Biden’s commitment is if the role has the teeth needed to be effective,” Blad wrote in a tweet.




Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.