Story at a glance
- Michael Regan is the first Black man to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
- In the United States, environmental racism refers to the injustice suffered by Black, Indigenous and other people of color, who are disproportionately affected by the consequences of environmental policy.
- Regan spoke about his personal experiences with environmental racism and goals for this administration.
The Biden administration has given the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a much-needed “clean slate,” said Michael Regan, the department’s new chief, just as the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on the environment are becoming more clear.
“I was deeply concerned as I watched the previous administration,” Regan told The Guardian. “We all witnessed a mass exodus of scientists and qualified people the agency needs. I was really concerned coming into the job as to how morale would be and how much of a setback it would be to tackle the challenges before us.”
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Regan started his career at the EPA during the Clinton administration and spent eight years at the Environmental Defense Fund before becoming the secretary of North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality, where he became known for prioritizing environmental justice. But his education began with his lived experience growing up in the state.
“During days of high ozone and high pollution I did suffer respiratory challenges,” he told The Guardian. “I’ve been keenly aware of the impact of pollution from an early age and what that means, from lost school days or from preventing me enjoying the outdoors with my grandfather and father. That’s always been part of my knowledge base.”
As the first Black man to lead the EPA, Regan understands the urgency of climate change, punctuated by recent extreme weather events.
“We definitely feel the responsibility. We aren’t going to shrink away from our obligations,” he told The Guardian. “We are going to apply our statutory authority to solve as much of this problem [climate change] as we can as an agency. Yes, we have to revisit bad decisions, but the goal isn’t to get back to neutral: we have to make up for lost time. We are leaning in.”
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