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Biden set to select top North Carolina environmental official to lead EPA

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Scalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration Sidney Powell withdraws 'kraken' lawsuit in Georgia MORE on Thursday selected Michael ReganMichael ReganOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Groups sue EPA over 'backwards' lead rule | 12 states, green groups sue EPA over airline standards they deem insufficient | Biden taps Janet McCabe to serve as deputy at EPA Biden taps Janet McCabe to serve as deputy at EPA Biden's chief aide says president wants teams, no rivals MORE to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), picking a longtime EPA insider to lead the agency.

Regan, 44, is currently the secretary for North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the state’s EPA equivalent. He would be the first Black man to hold the role of EPA chief.

He previously worked for the EPA under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations before heading to the Environmental Defense Fund as its southeast regional director.

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Picking Regan suggests Biden is eager to have a longtime expert at an agency responsible for the bulk of the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks.

During President TrumpDonald TrumpLil Wayne gets 11th hour Trump pardon Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports MORE's tenure, the EPA has rolled back regulations on power plants and other industrial emissions like those from the oil and gas sector, along with those on emissions from vehicles — all which will need to be reversed in order to put the U.S. on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 as Biden has promised.

“The Biden team was very impressed with his tenure leading North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality, how he held polluters accountable, including by reaching the largest coal ash cleanup settlement in US history,” a source familiar with the transition team’s thinking told The Hill.

“And the team was also impressed by how he worked to give communities disproportionately harmed by environmental injustices a larger voice in state environmental and natural resource decisions.”

Biden has pledged to make environmental justice and the disproportionate burden of pollution faced by communities of color a cornerstone of his environmental agenda alongside cutting emissions and boosting renewable energy.

Regan's previous work aligns with many of Biden’s climate goals. Regan’s previous time at the EPA centered on air and energy programs. And in North Carolina, he formed an Environmental Justice and Equity Board for DEQ and helped craft the state’s plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

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Biden has pledged to make environmental justice and the disproportionate burden of pollution faced by communities of color a cornerstone of his environmental agenda.

Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said Regan would need to “move with lightning speed” to begin addressing a host of problems at the agency.

Former EPA administrators have repeatedly bashed the direction the agency has taken under the Trump administration, arguing EPA has ignored its missions of protecting human and environmental health.

Those who know Regan argue he is a great pick to help right the ship after doing the same in North Carolina.

“He has certainly had a difficult situation coming in with respect to morale and rebuilding confidence in the staff. He did inherit a difficult situation; his predecessor was pretty destructive to the agency,” Stan Meiburg, a former acting deputy administrator for the EPA during the Obama years who now teaches at Wake Forest University said of Regan's time in North Carolina.

He told The Hill he sees parallels with the EPA under Trump.

“The career staff have had a tough four years. I think there was a sense science wasn’t always at the heart of decisions the agency was making, and that’s been tough,” he said.

Regan would join a team of other high-ranking environmental regulators set to be part of the Biden administration.

Former EPA administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyBiden to rejoin Paris agreement, revoke Keystone XL permit  Biden to sign flurry of executive actions in first hours of presidency 15 states sue EPA over decision not to tighten pollution standard for smog MORE is expected to serve in a newly created climate coordinator role, while former Michigan Gov. Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmRecord number of women to serve in Biden Cabinet Biden faces tall order in uniting polarized nation Biden's chief aide says president wants teams, no rivals MORE will lead the Department of Energy.

While environmental groups were largely excited by the pick, they stressed the need for Regan to be an active participant in addressing climate change.

“We will do everything in our power to support and push Regan to repair the damage done by the Trump administration, take bold action on climate solutions, and genuinely address environmental injustice that has been allowed to go on too long,” Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen said in a statement.

If confirmed, Regan would be the second African American to lead the department.

Updated at 1:55 p.m.