WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Wednesday that Michael S. Regan, former North Carolina’s top environmental agency, heads the Environmental Protection Agency and is driving some of the Biden administration’s largest climate and regulatory actions.
As an administrator, Mr. Regan, who began his career with the EPA and worked in environmental and renewable energy advocacy prior to becoming Secretary of the Environmental Quality Division in North Carolina, will be tasked with rebuilding an agency that was under the Trump administration Has lost thousands of employees. Donald J. Trump’s political representatives have overturned dozens of protections against clean air and clean water and reversed all of the Obama administration’s key climate rules over the past four years.
Central to Mr Regan’s mission is to introduce aggressive new regulations to fulfill President Biden’s pledge to eliminate fossil fuel emissions from the electricity sector by 2035, significantly reduce emissions from motor vehicles, and prepare the United States to do so by Middle of the century to create no net carbon pollution. According to information from administrative officials, several proposed regulations are already in preparation.
His nomination was accepted by 66-34 votes, with all Democrats and 16 Republicans voting in favor
“There are few leadership roles in the federal government with greater responsibility for setting environmental goals and climate policies than the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Mr. Regan, he said, “is the person for the job at this critical moment.”
Mr. Regan will be the first black man to serve as EPO administrator. At 44, he will also be one of Mr Biden’s youngest cabinet secretaries, having to navigate a crowded field of older, seasoned Washington veterans already deployed in key environmental positions – most notably Gina McCarthy, who previously held Mr Regan’s job and is the head of one new offices for climate policy in the White House.
These potentially overlapping agencies have already sparked criticism from Republicans, some of whom voted against Mr Regan’s endorsement for saying they did not know who is really responsible for the government’s climate and environmental policies.
“I cannot support Secretary Regan if Gina McCarthy is the orchestra leader in the Biden administration,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia.
Most of the opposition, however, focused on democratic politics. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, called Mr. Biden’s agenda a “left war on American energy.”
“Mr. Regan has a lot of experience,” said Senator McConnell. “The problem is what he’s got to do with it.”
In his testimony to the Senate last month, Mr. Regan assured lawmakers that I will “lead and make these decisions and take responsibility for these decisions” regarding EPA policy.
Mr. Regan has a reputation for being a consensus builder who works well with lawmakers on both parties. The two Republican Senators from North Carolina, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, voted for his nomination. Even Senate Republicans who voted against him had kind words.
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“I really enjoyed meeting and getting to know Michael Regan,” said Senator Capito. “He’s a dedicated civil servant and an honest man.”
But Mr Regan said he plans to act aggressively in implementing Mr Biden’s agenda to combat climate change.
Exactly what this will look like within the EPA, and in the electricity sector in particular, remains unclear, but administrative officials have already indicated that they intend to create a new regulation to curb the second largest source of emissions in the United States.
The Obama administration tried to curb carbon pollution from the electricity sector with an ordinance called the Clean Power Plan, which would have urged utilities to move from coal to cleaner fuels or renewable energies. The Trump administration lifted this and replaced it with a far weaker rule that only utilities had to make efficiency gains in individual power plants.
The Clean Power Plan rule met with opposition from the Supreme Court, but the Trump version was put down altogether. That combination, Regan told lawmakers, gives the EPA a “clean slate” to move forward. Several administrators said they expected the agency to roll out a “Clean Power Plan 2.0” in the coming weeks.
Ms. McCarthy has already had discussions with automakers about new emission standards for vehicles, but the proposed new rule itself will also come from the EPA
Another expected focus of Mr. Regan will be the impact of environmental policy on poor and minority communities. He has identified environmental justice as “an issue that is very important to me” and told lawmakers that he intended to call in a special adviser and seek additional funding to better address what experts identify as systemic racism and inequality in environmental decisions to have.