EPA head: ‘COVID-19 created a perfect storm for environmental justice communities’
New Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan pledged Wednesday to address the disparate impacts of pollution on underserved communities, saying the need to address environmental justice “has only become more urgent” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a virtual “fireside chat” at the 2021 Ceres Conference, Regan said that under his leadership the agency will explore the question of “what does real change look like in underserved communities.”
“Environmental justice is near and dear to my heart,” he said, adding that “COVID-19 created a perfect storm for environmental justice communities.”
Regan has a background in such issues specifically, having created North Carolina’s Environmental Justice and Equity Board in 2018 during his previous position as head of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.
“We will be driven by our convictions that every person in our great country has the right to clean air, clean water and a healthier life, no matter how much money they have in their pockets, the color of their skin or the community that they live in,” Regan said in December when then-President-elect Biden introduced him as his EPA nominee.
Nonwhite Americans are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of air pollution, which can exacerbate the effects of the coronavirus, as well as comorbidities such as heart disease and hypertension. A preliminary study from last year indicated that long-term average exposure to fine particulate matter increases the risk of death from the virus.
Regan also addressed what he said was the need for restoring morale within the EPA after the Trump administration.
“Under my leadership we will be listening to the voices of our career public servants and EPA scientists,” he said. “There were a few times during the last administration when the voices of our scientists were not at the forefront.”
He specifically pointed to the EPA’s removal of a web page on climate change, which the Biden EPA restored last week.
“We’re bringing back scientific integrity and climate action. We are committed to bringing back underserved communities,” Regan added.