Senate confirms Michael Regan as the nation’s new top environmental watchdog

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 6:54 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2021 at 7:26 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - North Carolinian Michael Regan assumes his role as the country’s top environmental defender after the U.S. Senate confirmed him to be the next E.P.A. administrator in a 66-34 vote Wednesday evening.

Environmental experts and former Environmental Protection Agency staff said Regan represents a political climate change.

“Preserving our natural resources isn’t something just to balance with the economy, it’s essential for economic growth, along with protecting public health and our way of life,” said last month at his first confirmation hearing. At that time, he pledged to work with all sides affected by any potential new regulation.

His track record of doing so as North Carolina’s top environmental watchdog won him broad support even from those who ultimately expect to oppose much of his agenda. “He will sometimes take on initiatives that I will disagree with, most likely vote against,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)., “but I do believe he will be somebody we can rely on to be fair.”

Before Regan officially took the reins, the administration announced it would undo dozens of rules and guidance written under Trump’s leadership. That’s drawn criticism from the right. “Officials in place at the White House and at the EPA have already set the agenda,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) while explaining why should we vote against Regan despite seeing him as qualified.

But, former agency leaders call the reversals critical to repairing lost scientific credibility.

“You’re not just trying to build back to what it was,” said former Acting Administrator for EPA Stan Meiburg, “you’re trying to build forward to what an EPA of the future needs to be.”

Meiburg now directs a sustainability program at Wake Forest University. He helped the Environmental Protection Network draft a detailed planning document, suggesting how the E.P.A. should move forward in the years to come.

Meiburg expects his old agency to re-institute stricter tailpipe limits, clarify controversial water quality standards, and move to clean-up toxic sites.

The to-do and wish lists are long; four years isn’t much time to work with in the world of government regulation. “You will have to make choices and every administrator faces them,” he said.

An added wrinkle: Biden created a climate czar position in his cabinet for former E.P.A. Administrator Gina McCarthy. Regan struggled to convince Republicans that she won’t be the one running his agency.

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