New EPA boss urges businesses to 'embrace the opportunity of climate change'

The new boss at the the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used her first public speech since taking up the role to categorically reject accusations the watchdog's carbon legislation will damage the U.S. economy.

Speaking at an event hosted by Harvard Law School, Gina McCarthy argued there was ample evidence that environmental regulations can aid the economy and urged businesses to "embrace the opportunity of climate change."

"Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs? Please. At least for today?" she said. "Let's talk about this as an opportunity of a lifetime, because there are too many lifetimes at stake."

She hailed the success of the Obama administration's recent tightening of emissions standards for vehicles, arguing that they had played a crucial role in the sector's recovery while also reducing fuel bills for motorists. "On the brink of collapse four years ago, The Center for Automotive Research now predicts the auto industry will add 35,000 jobs in 2013," she added.

She argued that those opposed to action on climate change were guilty of offering "a false choice: between the health of our children and the health of our economy".

"The truth is cutting carbon pollution will spark business innovation, resulting in cleaner forms of American-made energy," she argued.

She reiterated that the EPA would continue to pursue the Obama administration's second term agenda, which aims to raise the profile of action to tackle climate change and introduce new emissions regulations for power stations.

"Climate change will not be resolved overnight," she said. "But it will be engaged over the next three years - that I can promise you."

However, McCarthy can expect to face continued opposition from Republicans who waged a lengthy battle to stop her taking up the new role.

The latest Congressional effort to weaken the EPA is scheduled to kick off today with the House Appropriations Committee set to consider a new GOP spending bill that would slash the budget for the 19 agencies covered by the Department of Interior and EPA by $5.5 billion next year.

Meanwhile, McCarthy is also due to have a front row seat on the President's decision on whether or not to authorize the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Asked about the EPA's role in the decision yesterday, McCarthy said that "the best that the EPA can do is to continue to be an honest commenter on the environmental impact statement, which we have done our best to do and will continue to do that and work with the administration as difficult decisions are made".

President Obama signaled over the weekend that he would block the project if it was shown to increase greenhouse gas emissions -- a question the State Department is currently investigating having outraged green groups by initially indicating that the pipeline may not lead to a net increase in emissions.

Obama hinted again yesterday that he was cooling towards the Keystone XL plan, attacking Republicans for "putting all your eggs in the basket of an oil pipeline that may only create about 50 permanent jobs".

He added that he wanted to see a jobs plan that built on the expansion of clean tech industries, slamming Republicans for their latest attempts to cut renewable energy funding.

"Now is the time to double down on renewables, and biofuels, and electric vehicles, and the research that will shift our cars and trucks off oil for good," he said.

In related news, a bipartisan bill designed to drive energy efficiency improvements across the US economy is due to reach the Senate floor this week.

According to reports on the Hill blog, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D, N.H.) and Rob Portman (R., Ohio) have scaled back some of the measures contained in the original bill as they seek to build cross-party support for the plan.

A number of incentive and grant programs that would have required increased government spending have been removed from the draft bill in an attempt to secure Republican support. However, the plan would still look to introduce new voluntary building codes designed to significantly improve energy efficiency, a number of incentives for homeowners and businesses considering investing in efficiency improvements, a green skills development program, and an expanded rebate scheme for efficient motors.