Ag groups are more than happy with the choice of Michael Regan, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, citing his experience working with the farming community in North Carolina and the Biden administration’s extensive outreach to farm groups thus far.

“We are big fans of his,” says Michael Formica, assistant vice president and general counsel at the National Pork Producers Council, which is circulating a letter among farm groups supporting Regan’s upcoming nomination to be EPA chief. He says in North Carolina, Regan “really took it upon himself to actually go out and visit farms, meet with farmers, and figure out what was really going on” before moving ahead with regulations.

Regan, 44, has some farming in his background, sharing with a group of more than a dozen ag CEOs that his grandfather was a small farmer in Bladen County, North Carolina, “where he planted corn, tobacco, peanuts, and soybeans and also raised pork and poultry,” according to a readout of a Jan. 5 meeting.

The probable administrator’s background includes 18 years’ experience almost evenly split between EPA and the Environmental Defense Fund. At EDF, he focused mostly on climate change issues, which have emerged as a top priority for the Biden administration. At EPA, he worked on air issues, ending up as a national program manager for program design in the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.

On one issue important to farmers, Regan has told National Corn Growers Association CEO Jon Doggett that he understands the importance of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Jon Doggett

Jon Doggett, NCGA

In a conversation with Doggett, Regan said “he certainly understands the importance of the ethanol industry, not only to corn, but he indicated he understood the importance of ethanol to rural communities,” Doggett said. “And so many of those ethanol plants are located in smaller communities.”

Doggett said he’s been impressed by the Biden transition’s willingness to reach out to agriculture.

“I’ve been in town since Ronald Reagan was president,” he says. “So I've seen six transitions and never have I seen a transition where there was this much outreach to agriculture.”

Daren Coppock, CEO and president of the Agricultural Retailers Association, said he left the meeting with Regan feeling he will be open to conversations with the ag community. “I was impressed by what I heard,” Coppock said.

Regan will be facing a host of thorny issues when he takes over at EPA, including whether to pull back on the Trump administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule now being challenged in courts around the country; how best to address climate change; PFAS contamination; and environmental justice, also a major priority for the incoming administration.

The Environmental Working Group, a frequent critic of the ag industry, said Regan is a great choice for EPA, citing an agreement he helped craft “to stop pollution of North Carolina’s drinking water with the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.”

“Few people know more about PFAS and the public health emergency posed by these toxic 'forever chemicals' than Michael Regan,” said EWG President Ken Cook.

Geoff Gisler, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who worked on the PFAS settlement, said, “What we’ll get with Secretary Regan at the EPA is someone who really values and recognizes the importance of clean air and clean water for everyday people.”

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Regan “knows about the harmful impacts” of hog farming but will “listen to everyone,” Gisler said. On environmental justice, “He will certainly prioritize lifting up the voices of environmental justice communities and communities that have been marginalized over the past many decades.”

Not everyone is convinced. Naeema Muhammad, a member of DEQ's Environmental Justice and Equity Board, commenting on a general permit adopted in 2019 for hog operations in the state, told the publication Facing South in 2019 that “DEQ is refusing to make necessary changes to address the discriminatory and cumulative impacts that these swine operations have on our communities."

An environmental justice advocate in the state, who asked not to be identified by name, was cautiously optimistic about where the new administration will land on some of those issues.

Chandler Goule

Chandler Goule, NAWG

“I don't know that there has been this level of engagement from previous administrations,” the activist said, citing the “vocal commitment during the campaign on environmental justice. I hope that that difference would translate into meaningful changes in the long run.”

At the meeting with ag CEOs, Regan said “he definitely understands the importance of production agriculture, but also understands that we need to maintain environmental justice,” said Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers.

Formica said Regan “treated us fairly. He listened to both sides and then he looked at what the science showed — that’s all you can ask him to do.”

The North Carolina Farm Bureau also said it’s pleased with the choice, saying that “as a native of one of North Carolina’s top agricultural counties, Regan carries insight into the broader scope of the impact of environmental policy. We have found him to be fair, welcoming feedback from stakeholders representing a diversity of policy stances.”

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