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US Senate confirms Michael Regan as EPA administrator

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan.
Source: North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

The U.S. Senate on March 10 voted to confirm former North Carolina regulator Michael Regan as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 16th administrator.

Regan, who started his career at the EPA before leaving to work at the Environmental Defense Fund, was approved 66-34, with 16 Republicans voting for approval. At age 44, Regan is the first Black man to serve as EPA administrator.

In his most recent position as head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Regan won praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as a dealmaker who excels at brokering compromises. No stranger to working with electric utilities, Regan notably helped secure a $1.1 billion coal ash cleanup settlement with Duke Energy Corp., the largest of its kind to date.

During his confirmation hearing, Regan pledged to "follow the science and the law" in crafting energy and climate rules as part of President Joe Biden's "whole of government" approach to combatting climate change.

As EPA chief, Regan is expected to oversee the development of rules targeting new and existing fossil fuel-fired power plants, oil and gas operations, vehicle emission standards, and federally protected waters. Former EPA administrators serving under presidents of both parties have also stressed the need to recommit the agency to science following various efforts to allegedly undermine its use by Trump administration officials.

Regan's confirmation was cheered by environmental groups and industry trade organizations alike.

"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," Edison Electric Institute President and CEO Tom Kuhn said in a statement.

The American Petroleum Institute said it plans to work with the EPA to address problems such as climate change.

"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," API President and CEO Mike Sommers said.

The Sierra Club, the nation's oldest grassroots environmental advocacy group, also framed Regan's confirmation as a victory for disadvantaged communities that have historically suffered the worst effects of industrial pollution.

"At a time when we must urgently restore and reinforce the many environmental protections dismantled by the Trump administration, and when so many power plants across the country still lack essential pollution controls, we are grateful to have a public health ally at the helm of this essential agency," Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said.

And Earthjustice, a legal organization at the forefront of many Trump-era court battles, signaled it will continue to press the EPA on its core mission of protecting human health and the environment.

"The new EPA must pursue a bold and equitable transition to a pollution-free, 100% clean energy economy that works for everyone, starting with emissions reductions and robust investment in the low-income communities and communities of color that bear the brunt of industrial pollution and the climate crisis," Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said.