Energy & Environment

EPA nominee Regan pledges ‘urgency’ on climate change at confirmation hearing

Reuters/Pool

During his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, President Biden’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Michael Regan, pledged to act with “a sense of urgency” on climate and to increase the agency’s focus on science, transparency and combating inequality. 

“Our priorities for the environment are clear. We will restore the role of science and transparency at EPA. 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,” Regan said in his opening statement. 

Regan was formerly the state of North Carolina’s top environmental regulator. If confirmed, he would be tasked with implementing a number of Biden’s campaign pledges, including reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

He would also be coming into an agency that, under the prior administration, rolled back dozens of environmental protections that the Biden administration will likely seek to restore. 

During the hearing, Regan also said he would take action to clean up contamination from a class of cancer-linked chemicals called PFAS that can be found in drinking water and a variety of household products. 

He said he would pursue setting limits on how much of the chemicals facilities can spew into the air and water in response to questions from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). 

Regan didn’t directly answer the senator’s question on whether he would set a standard for what constitutes a safe level of PFAS in drinking water.

“What I plan to do is sit down and spend some time with the staff at EPA, with our counsel, to understand the multiple avenues I believe we have at our fingertips,” he said.

Asked by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) if the Biden administration would come up with a “new version” of an Obama-era regulation for emissions from coal-fired power plants, the nominee said he would operate with a “clean slate.”

The Obama administration’s plan for the major climate change regulation was stayed in court, while the Trump administration’s rollback of it was recently struck down. 

“There are lots and lots of, I would say, examples of success and failure that we’ve seen in past tries, and so I look forward to having an opportunity to do a few things,” Regan said. 

“Number one, to not look backwards but to look forward,” he added. “Number two, to convene all parties relevant to this discussion and think about how we harness the power and the statutory authority of the Clean Air Act in concert with major investments that we should see governmentwide and the input and the statements from those who will be impacted by any potential actions we take whether that be a rulemaking or whether that be voluntary.”

To take on inequality faced by marginalized communities on environmental issues, Regan said he would seek to have an environmental justice and equity adviser.

Capito also pressed Regan on how he would interact with White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy. Regan said he would report to Biden but would work with White House staff. 

The next step in the process would be a committee vote on whether to advance the nomination to the full Senate. 

While some Republicans in the committee pressed him on issues they had with Biden’s agenda, including his decision to revoke a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, Regan is also expected to have some bipartisan support. North Carolina’s two Republican senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, endorsed him at the start of the hearing.

Tags Environmental Protection Agency EPA Gina McCarthy Kirsten Gillibrand Michael Regan Richard Burr Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Shelley Moore Capito Thom Tillis

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