Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie)

It was a homecoming of sorts for Gina McCarthy, the current administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who served as the head of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection from 2004 through 2009.

Flanked by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and members of the Connecticut Auto Retailers Association, McCarthy returned to the parking lot Friday outside the renamed Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — near the charging station — to talk about the Paris agreement, under which 195 countries have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

She said climate change is one of the biggest “economic and national security challenges of our time,” and because of the leadership of President Barack Obama, “we were able to get an agreement in Paris that everyone should be proud of.”

McCarthy said it was the first time they were able to attend the conference and prove they could turn climate change into “economic opportunity.”

She said the United States went to the conference with a plan to reduce emissions from the power sector by 32 percent by 2030. The Obama administration may not have gotten that plan through Congress, but they were able to find executive authority to push forward.

“We still welcome an opportunity to have Congress weigh in, in a productive way, but right now we don’t feel we need Congress to take action moving forward,” McCarthy said.

The plan the United States is moving forward with to combat emissions is similar to one McCarthy implemented when she was in Connecticut.

During her time in Connecticut, McCarthy was responsible for helping launch the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a cooperative effort between Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from large fossil fuel power plants in the northeast.

Between 1990 and 2012, emissions from the power sector declined by 34 percent, according to Malloy.

McCarthy said the only reason they were able to push forward with a plan to reduce emissions here in the United States and a plan to lower the temperature of the climate globally is because states like Connecticut are paving the way.

She said when she first started talking about greenhouse gases and climate change there were no solutions on the table. She said they were modeling projections about what it may look like.

“Well now we’re in the world we once modeled and the impacts are worse that we ever anticipated,” McCarthy said. “But we’re also in a world with solutions.”

The nations, who attended the United Nations conference in Paris, pledged to take action designed “to hold global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.”

McCarthy said there’s “overwhelming international support for this.”

She acknowledged that some people aren’t convinced that climate change is manmade or that it exists at all, but there are still some people “who believe the earth is flat.”

She said they don’t need to convince everybody. However, she believes there’s “quite a bit of momentum” following the agreement in Paris.

“We understood that climate change is not just happening, but if we face this together we can turn this into an opportunity for a more inclusive society, a more sustainable society for jobs and economic development.”

The governor said Connecticut is doing its part to address the impact of global warming.

Several years ago the state passed legislation to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and it became the first “range confident” state for electric vehicles in the nation.

“Climate change is happening. Make no mistake about that,” Malloy said. “And it’s time to take action to address the challenge in a responsible and thoughtful way.”

It’s a problem we can’t fail to act upon, Malloy added.

McCarthy and Malloy were joined at the news conference by members of the Connecticut Auto Retailers Association, who brought with them a selection of electric vehicles on sale now throughout the state.