Obama nominates Dot native to head environmental agency

Regina McCarthy “I serve, I listen”Regina McCarthy “I serve, I listen”
President Obama on Monday nominated Regina “Gina” McCarthy, a Dorchester native, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Raised in an Irish-Catholic family, McCarthy went to UMass Boston, graduating in 1976 with a social anthropology degree. She later earned a master’s of science in environmental health engineering and policy and planning at Tufts University.

McCarthy, 58, is currently the assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. She previously worked under several Massachusetts governors, including Mitt Romney, and before her ascension to the EPA, she was the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

“As a top environmental official in Massachusetts and Connecticut, she helped design programs to expand energy efficiency and promote renewable energy,” Obama said on Monday. “As Assistant EPA Administrator, Gina has focused on practical, cost-effective ways to keep our air clean and our economy growing. She’s earned a reputation as a straight shooter. She welcomes different points of views. I’m confident that she’s going to do an outstanding job leading the EPA.”

Jim Hunt, III, the former secretary of the environment for the city of Boston, worked alongside McCarthy as an assistant environmental secretary for the state. Hunt, who now works as an executive for Northeast Utilities, said that McCarthy is “widely respected for her knowledge, her political acumen, and her balanced approach to problem solving.” He called her nomination “a great appointment.”

When she was nominated to her current job as assistant administrator, then-US Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) offered a statement in support, saying McCarthy “lived out a special determination to make every day Earth Day.”

At the 2009 confirmation hearing – which was attended by her husband, Kenneth McCarey, who met her at UMass Boston, and her children, David, Maggie, and Julie – her Boston accent was obvious. The daughter of a public school teacher who worked in Boston for 40 years and a waitress in a plastics factory, McCarthy spoke to her middle-class upbringing at her 2009 confirmation hearing: “I knew the people I was regulating, I saw their faces, I heard their voices, I see them now. So that no matter what level of government I serve, I listen to that and I understand both the need to drive the reductions we are looking for in terms of emissions and moving air quality and the value that brings to public health.”

“Now you wouldn’t know it from talking to her, but Gina is from Boston,” Obama quipped as he introduced her and two other Cabinet-level nominees in the East Room of the White House. “And one of her proudest moments was yelling ‘Play ball!’ at Fenway Park before a Red Sox game.”

According to a UMass Boston profile, McCarthy spoke at the Green Education for the Next Generation Gala in 2010. “I’m not going to debate climate science,” she said. “The time has come to act.” Given that stance, her nomination is likely to catch flak from congressional Republicans and others who say the EPA’s raft of regulations hurt the economy.

Reporter editor Bill Forry contributed to this report.