- Gina McCarthy, outgoing administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), laid out the Obama administration's accomplishments in the traditional exit memo and waste-related initiatives were a common theme. She left many hints for a potential successor who has expressed a strong difference of opinion, saying the administration had "made the case that smart investments in our environment do not conflict with a growing economy — they support it."
- The EPA's work on policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions was a main focus of the memo and the creation of the first performance standards for landfills was listed among its top achievements. McCarthy wrote that this had helped "cut hundreds of thousands of tons of emissions from methane and ozone-forming volatile organic compounds."
- McCarthy also cited international waste initiatives and made the case for the agency maintaining a global leadership role on environmental policies. Waste-related examples included participating in the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency, which recognized that "economic growth and prosperity are directly tied to the ways we build and dispose of materials," and collaborating with the U.N. on marine litter prevention programs through the Trash-Free Waters Program.
Though state or local policy often have more immediate effects in the waste world, the EPA still plays a leading role and has pushed through many relevant changes over the past eight years. As part of broader action on climate change mitigation, the agency's work on landfill methane regulations, vehicle emission standards and material management have all had big effects on how the industry operates.
Last month, Waste Dive spoke to Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), for a more detailed look at how this sustainable materials management approach has evolved during the Obama years. The Superfund and hazardous waste remediation work that OLEM does was also recognized in the exit memo, with an emphasis on the economic benefits this can bring to affected communities.
Looking ahead, McCarthy said the agency's goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030 would be a key part of climate change mitigation and discussed toxic chemical safety as another outstanding priority. Implementation of the agency's 2020 environmental justice agenda will also be left to the next administration. On this topic, McCarthy said greater levels of community involvement and transparency must happen in the future. In a broader sense, she also said it would be important for states to "reassert their oversight role on environmental matters" and defended the EPA's mission of protecting the environment as "non-partisan."
Whether any of this will be considered a priority by President-elect Donald Trump or Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the man Trump has nominated to be McCarthy's successor, remains to be seen. Pruitt has been a vocal critic of the EPA's recent agenda, led multiple lawsuits against some of its initiatives and promised to scale back federal regulations. He is expected to have a confirmation hearing in the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee as soon as this month.