Michael Regan Becomes First Black Man to Head EPA


New EPA head Michael Regan speaks at the Queen theater on December 19, 2020 in Wilmington, DE, following his nomination. Joshua Roberts / Getty Images

The Senate on Wednesday voted 66 to 34 to confirm Biden-nominee Michael Regan as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), making him the first Black man to hold the position.

Regan is one of several nominees that the Biden administration announced in December as part of a team to tackle the climate crisis. But at the EPA, Regan also faces the added challenge of rebuilding an agency still reeling from former President Donald Trump’s rollbacks, as well as addressing the inequality that exposes poor and minority communities to more pollution than wealthy, white communities.

Environmental justice is something that is near and dear to my heart,” Regan said at his Senate confirmation hearing in February, HuffPost reported.

The 44-year-old Regan comes to the EPA with a long background in environmental regulation and advocacy: He worked for the EPA under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. From 2001 to 2008, he worked at the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, USA Today reported. From 2008 to 2015, he worked for the Environmental Defense Fund, then left to start his own environmental consulting firm, M. Regan and Associates.

In 2017, he served as cabinet secretary for North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality. His experience running a regulatory agency in a swing state likely helped him clinch today’s confirmation with bipartisan support, as every Democrat and 16 Republicans backed his nomination, HuffPost reported.

In his hearings, Regan presented himself as a consensus builder who would listen to all sides of an issue, according to The Washington Post.

“He is immensely qualified for this position, not only in qualifications, but in his demeanor,” said North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, one of the Republicans who voted for Regan, The Washington Post reported. “Too often we overlook whether a nominee has the right character to lead an organization. In this case, there’s no question that Michael Regan has that character.”

However, Regan is still committed to tackling climate change and helping to lift the disproportionate pollution burden faced by marginalized communities. But he also needs to rebuild an agency that lost almost 900 employees during the Trump years, HuffPost reported.

Projects that could be tackled by his EPA include reversing Trump’s rollbacks, setting vehicle and power plant emission standards and cleaning up polluted areas, The Washington Post reported.

Environmental groups met Regan’s appointment with overall approval.

“This is a wonderful day for our country, for the Environmental Protection Agency, and for communities nationwide who cherish clean air, clean water, and safeguarding our climate,” Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said in a statement.

However, Regan has earned some pushback for decisions made in North Carolina. He approved permits for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline and approved a gas facility in Indigenous Lumbee territory without properly consulting tribal leaders.

“My belief is that he could have had a stronger environmental justice footprint,” Donna Chavis, a North Carolina environmentalist and current senior fossil fuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told The Washington Post.

However, she added that Regan had succeeded in rebuilding the North Carolina agency despite budget cuts and low morale.

While Regan is the first Black man to hold the position, Lisa Jackson was the first Black American to run the EPA. She served for four years during the Obama administration.

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