The Senate confirmed Michael Regan on a bipartisan 66-34 vote Wednesday as the 16th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Regan, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, will be the second African American to serve in the post. Lisa Jackson, who was in the position from 2009-2013, was the first.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced his nomination Feb. 9 with several Republicans joining all Democrats on the panel in support.
The choice of Regan had plenty of support from the agriculture community, which mobilized to back him for the job.
In a letter dated Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, nearly two dozen national groups, led by the National Pork Producers Council and including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and CropLife America, as well as commodity groups representing producers of corn, soybean, meat, fruits and vegetables, rice, wheat and others, said Regan “has an established record of listening to all stakeholders, including farmers and ranchers.
“During his tenure [at North Carolina's DEQ], he has worked to find practical, sound solutions to myriad environmental issues in the state, while ensuring science and data guided his decisions,” they said. “He also understood the impact those decisions would have on rural communities and the families that live and work there.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York spoke in favor of Regan's nomination. "It's high time the Senate confirmed someone like Michael Regan, who has made environmental protection the cause of his career, to lead the agency and set it back on its proper footing,” he said.
But Regan’s unwillingness to reject out-of-hand the Obama administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule, among other regulations, and concerns about the climate policy approach of the Biden administration prompted some opposition.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, said Wednesday that Regan, “a longtime regulator and activist, has plenty of experience,” but “the problem is what he's poised to do with it. He and the administration are plainly prepared to put that experience behind the same far-left policies that crush jobs and prosperity in states like Kentucky throughout the Obama administration.”
The Obama-era Clean Power Plan and the “absurd” WOTUS rule would be “back on the table,” McConnell said, which would put Kentuckians’ jobs and livelihoods at risk.
The top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., also opposed the nomination, while expressing hope that Regan would be able to chart his own path at EPA despite the presence in the White House of "unaccountable" climate czar Gina McCarthy.
Both North Carolina Republican senators supported Regan, with Richard Burr saying “he’s the right man to lead the EPA. Communities reliant on agriculture for their livelihoods will be listened to.”
In addition to Burr and fellow North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis, Regan also garnered GOP floor support from Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, and Marco Rubio of Florida.
In his confirmation hearing, Regan said he was “looking forward to convening multiple stakeholder groups” on the definition of “waters of the U.S.” The Biden administration is currently seeking to pause litigation over the Trump-era Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed federal protection for ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands.
“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,” Regan said at his EPW hearing.
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On biofuels, Regan said he would “confer with my legal and policy team to understand all of the options before me regarding the RFS program,” according to written answers to questions submitted by EPW Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del.
In a statement, Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor pointed to the role biofuels could play in climate change mitigation.
“Administrator Regan has been on the record supporting biofuels as critical to help meet an ambitious climate agenda, committing to following the letter of the law on the Renewable Fuels Standard, and pledging transparency on any small refinery exemption decisions," she said. "We look forward to working with Administrator Regan on all of these policy and regulatory initiatives, and offering our organization’s perspective and high-level of expertise as he makes these decisions.”
In addition to the ever-present controversies surrounding the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction and the Renewable Fuels Standard, Regan will have to tackle thorny issues such as PFAS contamination, climate change and environmental justice.
Regan’s background includes 18 years of experience almost evenly split between EPA and the Environmental Defense Fund. At EPA from 1998-2008, he worked on air issues, ending 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.
Story updated to include information on floor vote and to correct Regan's status as administrator. He is the 16th.
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