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Politics

The White House's new initiative aims to reduce carbon emissions from transportation

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Joe Biden is traveling to the Pacific Northwest tomorrow to mark Earth Day. His most ambitious climate proposals are stalled in Congress. Today the White House announced a new initiative. Among other things, this plan lets states develop plans for using federal money to reduce emissions and encourage clean energy. Gina McCarthy is the White House's national climate adviser. Welcome to the program.

GINA MCCARTHY: Thank you. It's great to be here, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This carbon reduction program lets states decide how best to use federal transportation dollars to reduce emissions. And a line from The Washington Post article about this initiative struck me. It says states plans are not binding and the money will flow regardless of whether they achieve their objectives. So if that's the case, why do you expect this to move states any farther or faster than they would have gone on their own anyway?

MCCARTHY: Well, there's two ways of looking at it. These are budget allocations that are made routinely to states, but states at their highest level don't generally make these decisions. And we have a lot of priorities where we can couple expenditures at the state level like this with also grant programs and other investments by the bipartisan infrastructure law that can really make this money go further.

So we have full expectation that we should be providing guidance on how they should do this work, opportunities they have to advance it with other goals. And we're going to work closely and hand in hand with them to make sure that they look at things like labor standards, made in America, equitable investments to advance environmental justice. These are these things that states generally would work with us on, and we ought to tell them what we think our values are in this country and how to advance them.

SHAPIRO: So you're offering guidance, describing values, you know, collaboration. But if you look at a state like Florida, where the Republican governor and the legislature are taking steps right now to undo clean energy incentives, will this new federal initiative changed the direction of emissions in a state like Florida?

MCCARTHY: Well, I believe that it will, because, as I said before, the governors don't generally sit and make determinations on projects. And a lot of these projects are supported not just by this resource, but also by other bipartisan infrastructure, which are investments that make sure they're done in a way that's resilient, that make sure they're done by identifying the risks and looking at the opportunities and alternatives to make the money go farther and advance the transportation options for each of these states.

So there are real opportunities here not just to do business as usual but to guide it in a way that that really provides incentives for it to be done right. That's what the bipartisan infrastructure law provides us with is resources that will really provide the needed incentives to take a close look at how we're looking at infrastructure and ensuring it meets the needs today and tomorrow, given the climate impacts we expect to see.

SHAPIRO: To look at the big picture, on Earth Day last year, President Biden set a goal of reducing greenhouse gases 50% by 2030 compared to 2005 emissions levels. Now, as I said, the administration's most ambitious climate programs are put on hold. They couldn't get through Congress. And so is the U.S. on track to hit that goal the president said a year ago?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think we need to be clear that there is an opportunity already through the bipartisan infrastructure law to heavily invest in climate, to heavily invest in environmental justice issues, to make sure that we're providing resources smartly in resilience. So we already have opportunities like environmental, like electric vehicle charging stations, closing up some of the methane exposure that we have in old abandoned wells. We're looking at getting the lead out of water systems.

SHAPIRO: Is that going to get the U.S. to 50% reduction?

MCCARTHY: Well, a lot of it will, because we both have regulatory authority, and we're exercising that on methane and HFCs, which are super-polluting. But we also have access to a breadth of whole-of-government approach. All of the agencies are looking to integrate climate impacts and risks and opportunities into the way in which they're running their programs. So we're not simply relying on Congress to dictate. We have great regulatory authority and we're willing to use it, and we are using it every single day.

SHAPIRO: As you know, there's also a lot of political pressure right now to lower gas prices. And people in the oil and gas industry are arguing that there should be more drilling. The administration itself just greenlit more drilling in federal lands. How do you square that with the climate goals that the administration has set?

MCCARTHY: Well, the recent drilling in public lands for oil and gas was court ordered. So we're going to have some setbacks. But we're fighting that like crazy because we know that the path to clean energy is actually the only one that's going to keep us secure. So, yes, the president is addressing the immediate emergency challenge from Putin's war, but he's also recognizing that that is not going to stall or slow down our effort to move towards clean energy. We're advancing offshore wind. We're looking at electric vehicles moving forward. We're looking at energy efficiency standards in housings and new appliances.

We're using every tool in the toolbox, including ensuring we have critical minerals that we need to advance clean energy and manufacturing and all throughout. We're focusing on environmental justice. We're focusing on job growth. And we're going to make sure that families pay less. And so one of the ways in which we're going to get Congress to act is make sure they're acting in the best interests of people and saving them money while we produce a great future for our kids.

SHAPIRO: Just in our last minute, I have to ask about news reports that have said you're planning to step down from your White House role, at least in part out of frustration at the slow pace of climate progress. Are those reports accurate?

MCCARTHY: No, they aren't. And they also said I sold my house in Alexandria when I don't own a house in Alexandria.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Duly noted.

MCCARTHY: There's a lot of things that were said. Look. I'm here to do the work of the president, and it's not done yet. We have a lot of opportunity moving forward. We're going to take advantage of that. And, frankly, we're not frustrated at all. We recognize the challenge of climate is a serious one. And we have to move forward every step of the way with every tool available, and that's what the president's doing.

SHAPIRO: White House Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy. Thank you very much.

MCCARTHY: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.