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Going private with a green consciousness

Because of her eco-passions, Kathleen McGinty has been referred to as Pennsylvania's Al Gore and credited with raising Gov. Rendell's environmental consciousness.

Because of her eco-passions, Kathleen McGinty has been referred to as Pennsylvania's Al Gore and credited with raising Gov. Rendell's environmental consciousness.

Indeed, the kid from asphalt-laden Northeast Philadelphia veered decidedly green as an adult.

She was a legislative assistant to Gore when he was in the Senate. And she headed Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection in Rendell's administration from January 2003 to July 2008.

In between, she was President Bill Clinton's environmental adviser and was chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Her role in Pennsylvania was as the commonwealth's chief environmental protector. But McGinty counts as her proudest accomplishment in that job her efforts to sow seeds for a thriving state green economy.

Now in the private sector, McGinty wants to build upon that work by linking entrepreneurs with the capital they need to create sustainable green businesses and jobs.

Question: Tell me about the effect of this economy on that effort.

Answer: This is, in some respects, the best of times and the worst of times for clean energy and clean-technology enterprises. It's the worst of times because, like all capital-intensive businesses, it's tough to finance projects, it's tough to find credit.

On the other hand, it's the best of times because public consciousness around our need to build it and grow it in terms of energy here at home, and finally to take our energy future back from places and despots and countries that don't hold our interests near and dear to their hearts, [has] been hugely helpful.

Q: What does Pennsylvania need to do to really position itself to benefit from the federal stimulus plan regarding funding for green initiatives?

A: First, long-term contracts need to be encouraged between the renewable-energy-project developer and our utilities. Second, job training across the spectrum of skill sets from the building-trades types of skills that are needed to get the projects in the ground, to operate and maintain them, all the way up to financial experts who know about hedging risk in energy commodities and building options contracts around energy resources, to the advanced skill sets in science and engineering and mathematics that will enable the next breakthroughs and technologies to come to the fore.

Third, to have the supply chain close at hand for solar-energy projects, geothermal and wind energy. The closer to the production facility that you can source all of your needed materials on the front end, and the closer to the manufacturing facility you can actually deploy your finished product is a huge competitive advantage to those companies that will be stuck still having to source those supplies from Europe and Asia that have been dominant in these markets for the last 15 years.

Q: How do you measure success in a green economy?

A: Some of my measures of success would be: How many jobs have we created in the renewable-energy and clean-technology sector? Second, how has that investment added to our tax base in the state? How much is it growing our economy? Third, how much do we have by way of installed capacity for wind energy and solar energy? That is, have we succeeded in actually building these projects and getting the solar panels out of the factories and deployed on someone's roof, and getting those wind turbines out of the factory and deployed in a field or on a hilltop somewhere so that people's energy bills are getting cut by the benefit of that renewable-energy resource?

Q: How does someone who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia become so environmentally conscious?

A: When you're one of 10 children growing up in a Cape Cod-style house with three bedrooms, by 9:30 in the morning my mother was saying, "I love you dearly. Now get out and be home at 6." And off we would go to Pennypack Woods. So we became very friendly with nature, as it was our second home, literally.

Q: When will you be satisfied that you've accomplished in this job what you wanted to accomplish?

A: I would be happy if there were no such thing as green jobs or clean technology. Because those things would just be repetitive. That every job was part of putting bread on the table as well as keeping fields and soil vital enough to be able to grow the bread to begin with.

And similarly, that it would just be redundant to say, "clean technology." Because inherently, we'd understand that we have to grow our economy in a way that preserves the water resources that we depend on, and the air we breathe, and the open space and land that are vital for our future.

Kathleen McGinty

Age: 45.

Title: Operating partner, Element Partners L.L.C., a private-equity firm that invests in growth-stage clean-technology companies. It has a regional headquarters in Radnor.

Birthplace: Northeast Philadelphia.

Hometown: Camp Hill, Pa.

Family: Husband, Karl Hausker, an environmental economist; daughters Alana, Tara, and Allie.

Education: Bachelor's degree in chemistry, St. Joseph's University; J.D., Columbia University Law School.

Green Habits: Drives a hybrid Honda Civic and recycles.

Eco-philosophy:   "While my own disposition is very strongly in the direction of technological innovation as the answer to our environmental problems, I am unapologetic about being sentimental about the environment, as well. I think as human beings we draw much needed awe and inspiration from the majesty of God's creation."