Michael Regan confirmed as 16th EPA Administrator

Published on March 11, 2021 by Chris Galford

Michael Regan

The U.S. Senate voted 66-34 this week to approve Michael Regan, a former North Carolina regulator, as the newest administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), setting the scene for a major shift in policy compared to the former administration.

Regan is a former secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality and air quality specialist for the EPA. In his four years at the helm of North Carolina’s environmental efforts, he made a name for himself in the promotion of environmental justice, with a particular focus on underserved and marginalized communities. He helped develop the state’s Clean Energy Plan and, notably, reached an agreement with Duke Energy to pursue the largest coal ash contamination cleanup ever organized in the U.S.

“Having a true environmental champion like Michael Regan leading the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a big step in the right direction,” Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), said. “We look forward to working with him to promote the clean energy transition at the heart of President Biden’s climate agenda. This is a critical moment in time and the EPA has a vital role to play in mitigating climate change and driving the deployment of pollution-free, renewable power.”

Regan himself touted a sense of urgency surrounding climate change during his Senate hearings and pledged to pursue President Joe Biden’s environmental policies focused on the issue. As such, he is poised for a sharp contrast with the previous administration, whose two EPA administrators — Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler — used the position to roll back many environmental regulations. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general, sued the EPA 14 times in his former life. Wheeler was a former coal lobbyist.

Despite big changes likely to come, the oil and natural gas industry were among those to extend congratulations on Regan’s appointment.

“We are committed to partnering with the EPA to advance a commonsense, durable regulatory approach aimed at addressing the risks of climate change, protecting public health, and continuing to improve air and water quality,” Mike Sommers, American Petroleum Institute (API) president, said. “From developing effective federal methane regulations and accelerating technological innovation to modernizing the nation’s fuels policies, there are opportunities for government and industry to work together to support our shared goal of a lower-carbon future.”

Electric companies also congratulated the new administrator, lauding his commitment to public service and focus on protecting both public health and the larger environment. In its acknowledgment, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) pledged to work with Regan to build up critical energy grid infrastructure and push forward toward 100 percent clean energy.

“EEI’s member companies are leaders on clean energy, and carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector are at their lowest level in more than 30 years and continue to fall,” EEI President Tom Kuhn said. “We are committed to getting the energy we provide as clean as we can as fast as we can, without compromising on the reliability and affordability that our customers value. We look forward to working with Administrator Regan on the many environmental issues facing our industry, including the development of strong and cost-effective federal regulations on methane emissions throughout the natural gas supply chain for new and existing sources and aggressive new rules for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles to help drive electrification and reduce emissions from the transportation sector.”

In his time in North Carolina, Regan gained a reputation as a consensus builder. There, as at the EPA, he was also the first black man to helm these respective agencies. During his hearing, he said that being invited back to the EPA was the honor of a lifetime.

“Our priorities for the environment are clear: we will restore the role of science and transparency at EPA,” Regan said. “We will support the dedicated and talented career officials. We will move with a sense of urgency on climate change, and we will stand up for environmental justice and equity.”