EPA nominee a champion for public health

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate will hold a confirmation hearing on Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Over her decades of public service, Ms. McCarthy has demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting public health with pragmatic solutions to our pollution challenges. In short, she has proved that she is a true public health champion.

While Ms. McCarthy's most high-profile accomplishments came from her work strengthening and modernizing historic clean air standards to ensure that Americans will be able to breathe easier over the long term, she has dedicated her entire career to keeping kids safe from chemicals, ensuring we have clean and safe drinking water, and tackling the environmental health issues that really matter.


Ms. McCarthy made a name for herself when working as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and as then-Gov. Mitt Romney's energy and climate adviser in Massachusetts. Reaching across the aisle, she was able to stop dangerous pollution in local rivers and prioritize public health with pragmatic, environmentally focused solutions.

Most recently, Ms. McCarthy has served as assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. During her tenure, she has helped our country make extraordinary strides in improving air quality.


With Ms. McCarthy at the helm of its air program, the EPA has established new clean vehicle and carbon pollution standards, which will cut carbon pollution and smog from vehicles in half by 2025. And under her leadership, the EPA set mercury and air toxics standards to reduce mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants coming from power plants.

In a public health context, these rules are hugely significant. Estimates suggest that the mercury and air toxics standards alone will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.

Already, while at the EPA, Ms. McCarthy has helped prevent hundreds of thousands of heart attacks, asthma attacks and hospital visits, and has helped avoid nearly 2 million lost days of work or school as a result of asthma and other health problems triggered by poor air quality.

That list represents quite the return on investment.

Ms. McCarthy has made these strides and flourished in her work with support from both Republicans and Democrats, industry and public health advocates (like me), because she possesses a quality that seems increasingly rare today: an ability to identify a problem and come up with a fair, sensible solution.

Without clean air to breathe, we can expect an increase in asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses, especially among our most vulnerable communities, but also increased health care costs. Ms. McCarthy understands the serious and long-lasting impact that pollution can have on our health and our economy. She has proved herself to be a strong advocate for reasonable, responsible policy that prioritizes public health. With such impressive credentials, I am excited to see what this next chapter holds. I have no doubt that Ms. McCarthy understands that we must invest in a clean future if we are to save lives and save money. She should be confirmed as EPA administrator without delay.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, a Gaithersburg resident, is executive director of the American Public Health Association and a former Maryland health secretary. His email is