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Sept. 12 — The environment stands to benefit from the improvements the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would usher in, according to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“I think everybody knows that when you do a trade agreement, that you want to make sure that the environmental standards will not just stay the same, but will continue to improve,” McCarthy said in an exclusive interview with Bloomberg BNA at the annual meeting of the Council of Environmental Cooperation, or CEC, an organization established by the North American Free Trade Agreement. “We are confident that under TPP, that will continue.”
The annual meeting, which took place Sept. 8–9 in Merida, Mexico, included McCarthy; Catherine McKenna, Canada's minister of environment and climate change; Rafael Pacchiano, Mexico's secretary of environment and natural resources, as well as several policy advisers and interested members of the public.
The future of the council, which spearheads coordinated environmental efforts on topics such as climate change and conducts investigations of trade-related environmental hazards, is expected to continue in some form even if the TPP passes, but its future role has not yet been defined.
Even so, McCarthy noted that it played an important role in helping the North American ministers negotiate as a team in the Paris climate change talks last December.
“I think our partnership had made a difference. It has helped initiate and get the Paris Agreement over the finish line,” McCarthy said, speaking at a group forum at the annual council conference. “Our continent is providing leadership, so don't sell it short.”
She noted that while the CEC is largely advisory and has no power to impose trade sanctions if environmental goals are not set, it still provides a lot of flexibility and a chance for countries to work together without limiting each country's autonomy.
“The role of the CEC is to get dinner on the table and for each country to take its own individual actions,” McCarthy said. “Every stakeholder is unique and has to determine its own path forward in its own unique way. The goal is to spark that and support it.”
McCarthy also made a strong push at the council meeting to encourage the three participating countries to focus on improving clean transportation, given its current role as one of the leading contributors not only to climate change, but also the reductions in air pollutants that improves public health.
“Vehicles are a direct reason why kids go to the hospital with asthma attacks and some people die,” she said. “We are going to have to make the health benefits well known and get serious about driving innovation. It is remarkable what business can do to respond when we send them the right regulatory signals.”
The growth of renewable energy in the U.S. has been linked to these kinds of signals and illustrates how government can best influence a better environment by encouraging business through regulatory actions, McCarthy said. In her view, the CEC has been part of this identification process, especially for issues common to all three countries in North America, such as protecting the migration path of Monarch butterflies.
“What our effort has been at the trilateral level is to identify the environmental challenges and to work with the business community on those solutions and to send all the right signals,” McCarthy told Bloomberg BNA. “This effort is to make it clear that the environment and the economy not only can work together; it must work together.”
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