The Biden administration’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency committed Wednesday to work with the agriculture community as he tackles thorny issues involving the Renewable Fuel Standard and implementation of the Clean Water Act.
“With this administration, we’re going to have an open-door policy. I want to hear from our farming community,” EPA Administrator nominee Michael Regan said Wednesday at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Regan, the secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, appears to have a clear path to confirmation with support from Republicans on the committee and off. No senators at the hearing expressed opposition to his nomination, and he was introduced by North Carolina Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Tom Tillis, both of whom support his nomination.
Regan also has the backing of farm groups, who have written a letter of support for his nomination to the committee.
His background includes 18 years of experience almost evenly split between EPA and the Environmental Defense Fund. At EPA, where he served first, he worked on air issues, ending up as a national program manager for program design in the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. At EDF, he focused mostly on climate change issues, which are a top priority for the Biden administration.
On the definition of “waters of the U.S.” in the Clean Water Act, Regan said he was “looking forward to convening multiple stakeholder groups” on the issue. “I don’t think we have to sacrifice water quality at the expense of making sure that farmers, especially small farmers, have a fighting chance in this economy,” he said.
The Biden administration is reviewing the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), which is now the law of the land; the Justice Department is now beginning to ask courts to pause litigation surrounding that rule.
Regan said he felt that the NWPR went too far in rolling back protections but that there is an opportunity for “common ground” on the “waters” definition both to give the agricultural and environmental communities certainty but also “so we don’t have to sacrifice precious wetlands.”
At the same time, he acknowledged it’s “very difficult for any regulation to truly address” the water characteristics of different regions, citing the different “water makeups” of Nevada and North Carolina.
On biofuels policy, Regan said the Renewable Fuel Standard “is definitely a priority for this administration” and committed to “a thorough review of all decisions” made under the umbrella of the RFS. Farm-state senators were frustrated during the Trump administration by EPA’s granting of dozens of small refinery exemptions (SREs) from the RFS.
Pressed by senators on both sides of the SRE issue, Regan committed to follow the law and the science and be transparent in how EPA determines which facilities deserve waivers.
Regan repeatedly said President Joe Biden has promised that “agriculture will have a seat at the table” and has specifically mentioned the role of biofuels and advanced biofuels in combating climate change.
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Environmental justice also was a theme throughout the hearing, with Regan saying he planned to appoint an environmental justice adviser and make sure EPA takes environmental justice concerns into account throughout the regulatory process.
In his prepared testimony, Regan said, “Throughout my career, I’ve learned that if you want to address complex challenges, you must first be able to see them from all sides and you must be willing to put yourself in other people’s shoes.”
The “best way to do that,” he said, “is by convening stakeholders where they live, where they work and where they serve, fostering an open dialogue rooted in a respect for science, a clear understanding of the law, and a commitment to building consensus with pragmatic solutions. I have also learned that we can’t simply regulate our way out of every problem we face.”
“This approach has proven to be effective during my time as the Secretary of DEQ,” Regan said. “We’ve tackled the adverse impacts from hog farms, cleaned up toxic PFAS pollution in our rivers, and reached the largest coal-ash settlement in U.S. history.”
After the hearing, Sen. Tom Carper, the Delaware Democrat who will soon chair the committee, declined to provide Agri-Pulse a specific timeline for further consideration of Regan's nomination but said “we’re not going to see the kind of delays, weeks, months that we’ve seen in other administrations at other times.”
Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.
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