The leader of North Carolina’s agency overseeing environmental issues in that state will be nominated to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), POWER learned on Dec. 17.
Michael Regan, 44, who previously worked at EPA and has served with the North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) since 2017, is expected to be nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to lead an agency that will be tasked with carrying out the new administration’s efforts to fight climate change, and work for environmental justice.
POWER also has learned that Biden will nominate Deb Haaland, a Democratic U.S. representative from New Mexico, to serve as secretary of the Dept. of the Interior.
Thursday’s news comes just two days after POWER reported that former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm would be nominated to lead the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE). If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Granholm would be the second woman to lead the DOE.
Regan if confirmed by the Senate would be the first Black to lead the EPA. The nominations of Granholm, Regan, and Haaland—a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe—continue a trend of diversity among Biden’s Cabinet and other agency supervisory choices. Haaland, 60, would be the first Native American to lead Interior, an agency that oversees tribal lands and manages a fifth of the nation’s lands, much of them in the Intermountain West.
Regan in North Carolina has dealt with several issues relating to power generation, including what to do about coal ash storage ponds in the state. He also helped draft a climate change plan to make North Carolina carbon-neutral by 2050. The state is the first in the Southeast to establish a climate target. He also created an environmental justice board to advise his department.
“Congratulations to Michael Regan and Representative Haaland on their well-deserved nominations to head the EPA and Interior Department,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Western Resource Advocates, a group that works to protect air, land, and water, in a statement provided to POWER. “As the president of an organization working every day for healthy air and water, connected and protected lands, and urgent climate action, we welcome these two highly qualified nominees.
“The challenge these two nominees—and the entire Biden-Harris administration—face is huge,” Goldin-Dubois said. “Science tells us that we have a window of three to five years to put in place major policies to reduce carbon pollution to prevent the rivers, lands, wildlife, and communities that we love from suffering irreparable damage … It is time to triple-down on climate action, and we welcome the opportunity to partner with the EPA and the Interior Department and our states and communities to get this work done.”
Todd Snitchler, president and CEO of the Electric Power Supply Association, in a statement said, “President-elect Biden has chosen a strong, well-respected team charged with critical decisions impacting the nation’s access to reliable energy and the associated impacts on the environment. Future progress must balance all essential needs.
“Reliable, affordable electricity and a competitive foundation that allows for continued innovation as the nation’s power grid evolves has never been more important,” said Snitchler. “Competition among electric generators in regional wholesale markets has led to billions in consumer cost savings annually while simultaneously delivering significant emissions reductions. It must be the bedrock for continued efficient, least cost decarbonization and reliable service … we look forward to engaging with Biden administration nominees and appointees to find durable, competitive, market-based solutions like carbon pricing that allow power companies to continue to bring more efficient and cleaner electric generation options to customers—without adding unnecessary cost or financial burden to struggling homes and businesses.”
Previous Experience with EPA
Prior to joining the NCDEQ, Regan founded a consulting firm and worked at the Environmental Defense Fund. He also spent almost a decade at the EPA during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, and for a time was national program manager for the agency’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.
The EPA’s role in the Trump administration has often been to roll back previous environmental rules, including replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, loosening regulations on effluent discharges from coal plants, and limiting the scope of state reviews of energy projects. The current administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is a former lobbyist for the coal industry. Trump has targeted the agency for budget cuts; at one point he talked of major reductions to the agency, saying “We’re going to have little tidbits left, but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out.”
A Washington Post analysis of EPA actions found that the Trump administration in the past four years has rolled back or diminished more than 130 environmental protections and rules, and has plans to alter at least another dozen before mid-January. (For a look at EPA actions over the past several years, read THE BIG PICTURE from POWER’s December 2020 issue.)
More than 1,600 workers left the EPA during the first 18 months of Trump’s administration. A 2018 report said that among those workers were at least 260 scientists, 185 environmental protection specialists, and more than 100 engineers, according to government data.
Fighting Climate Change
The EPA in the Biden administration is expected to be at the forefront of a renewed U.S. effort to fight climate change.
Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen in a statement Thursday said, “As EPA Administrator, Regan will play a key role in solving the climate crisis and protecting the health of all communities. We will do everything in our power to support and push Regan to repair the damage done by the Trump administration, take bold action on climate solutions, and genuinely address environmental injustice that has been allowed to go on too long.”
People familiar with the selection process for the EPA post said Regan emerged as a candidate only in recent days. Mary D. Nichols, California’s air quality regulator, had been touted as the front-runner before being criticized by some groups who said she had not enough to address the issue of environmental justice and racism in her state.
Haaland Backs Environmental Legislation
Haaland’s role as head of Interior would be to oversee about 500 million acres of public lands, much of it in the U.S. West. She also would be responsible for tribal affairs.
Haaland, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, was re-elected to Congress in November. She has served on Biden’s climate engagement advisory council. She has sponsored or co-sponsored several pieces of environmental legislation, including the “Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act,” H.R. 8271.
That measure, introduced in September, would provide $100 billion in funding to clean up polluted areas of the U.S., and would prohibit major source air pollution permits from being granted in areas that already have problems with air pollution.
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).