Senate committee advances N.C. DEQ secretary’s nomination to full vote

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency nominee Michael Regan, speaks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. Senate committee gave its approval to N.C. Department of Environmental Quality secretary Michael Regan to become President Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator on Tuesday.

A floor vote to confirm Regan is expected in the coming days.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, said, “Mr. Regan has experience bringing people together to solve our most pressing environmental issues and make sure no community gets left behind in the process. I’m confident he will bring his sterling record of public service to lead the EPA with integrity and compassion.”

“As we advance his nomination, it’s also critical that we focus our work on the issues that demand our attention. Climate change is the crisis of our time, and for too long, its dangerous impacts have been disproportionately shouldered by marginalized and low-income communities. In tackling climate change, we have the opportunity to not only do good for our planet but also to do right for our people and create good-paying jobs,” said Carper.

In a committee hearing on Feb. 3, Regan pledged to “move with a sense of urgency on climate change” and other priorities, while working with lawmakers from both parties to protect the environment.

Regan, who has served as the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality secretary since 2017, would be the first African American man to run the EPA. He spent nearly 10 years working at EPA under presidents of both parties. He called it “the honor of a lifetime to be asked to return” to lead the agency.

NC’s two Republican senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis enthusiastically introduced Regan. Burr called Regan “extremely qualified,” while Tillis said Regan was someone lawmakers “can rely on to be fair.”

Under questioning from Republican senators, Regan vowed to “follow the law, not exceed my statutory authority” to complete major new regulations on power plants, automobile tailpipes, mercury emissions and waterways — all of which will likely face strong GOP opposition.

“We will work transparently with responsible industries eager to establish clear, consistent rules of the road,” Regan said, and “work in partnership with Congress, leveraging your expertise … as we strive to build healthier communities.”

He said that throughout his career, “I’ve learned that if you want to address complex challenges, you must first be able to see them from all sides and you must be willing to put yourself in other people’s shoes.”

Biden has vowed to focus on environmental justice as a core part of his climate and environmental strategy, and Regan said he was eager to do his part.

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the panel, questioned whether Regan can be effective, saying he and other Cabinet officials tasked with addressing climate change “are going to be tripping over each other,” while facing likely interference from two high-profile White House climate advisers, former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and former Secretary of State John Kerry. McCarthy serves as domestic climate adviser while Kerry is a special climate envoy.

“Who is really going to be making decisions?” Capito asked. She complained that “unelected and unaccountable” climate “czars” such as Kerry and McCarthy would wield real power while avoiding public and congressional scrutiny. McCarthy in particular clashed with GOP lawmakers during her tenure at EPA.

Following Tuesday’s vote, Capito said of Regan, “While I appreciate his willingness to visit West Virginia and assurances for transparency, Secretary Regan has not committed to a different policy course than Gina McCarthy took during the Obama administration.”

Capito added, “Let me be clear: my decision today is not a personal one. Mr. Regan is a professional and affable gentleman. However, I remain deeply concerned about unaccountable climate czars in the White House and their control over EPA and environmental policy. Without clear commitments to oppose policies that would economically devastate West Virginia again, I cannot support him.”

The committee by a vote of 14-6 advanced Regan to the full Senate. Four Republicans voted to advance the nomination in addition to committee’s 10 Democrats: North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.