Michael Regan Takes Charge of the EPA

With the bipartisan confirmation of Michael Regan to Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Biden administration gained an experienced and well-respected leader to move its ambitious environmental agenda forward. Regan’s long career in environmental regulation at the federal and state level as well as an eight-year stint as an environmental advocate with the Environmental Defense Fund are likely to shape both his priorities and his approach. 

A former career EPA employee, Regan’s most recent position was as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) where he oversaw the biggest coal ash cleanup in the United States after reaching settlement with Duke Energy and the cleanup of the contamination of the Cape Fear River with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – so called “forever chemicals” that are highly toxic. In addition, Regan led the implementation of North Carolina’s clean energy policy initiatives that aim to move the state away from fossil fuels.

As the EPA Administrator, Regan has already made several clear statements about his vision for the agency. For example, in his first post-confirmation interview, Regan made clear that his first priority is to restore the scientific integrity and the utilization of data in making policy decisions. Other items on his priority list are protecting air and water quality, lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, and environmental justice that will see the government making substantial investments in communities suffering from decades of pollution. Regan stressed that he will use the agency’s wide-ranging authority to tackle climate change from multiple angles in an equitable way that helps all communities.

Because of his experience as the former head of a state agency, Regan is in a position to leverage his relationships with state environmental officials to promote the Biden environmental agenda through state and local action. Thus, it is notable that for his first public appearance as EPA Administrator, Regan gave the keynote address to the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), sending a signal of his strong commitment to cooperating with the states to protect the environment and public health. At the meeting, ECOS, the EPA, and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) extended their formal partnership for collaborating on developing tools, reports, workshops, and other initiatives to combat environmental threats and health hazards.

Regan is known as a consensus builder, and it is likely that he will use an inclusive approach to decision-making. It remains to be seen, however, whether his willingness to reach across the political aisle will lead to the successful implementation of the Biden environmental agenda in view of how deeply divided Washington is.

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