The Senate on Wednesday voted 66–34 to confirm Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, where he has pledged to prioritize climate change after the Trump administration worsened the crisis.
The first Black man to lead the EPA, Regan has also said he will fight for environmental justice, reducing pollution’s disproportionate impact on people of color and communities living in poverty.
“This administration’s priorities for environmental protection are clear,” Regan told Congress during his confirmation hearing in February. “We will restore the roles of science and transparency at EPA and support the talented, dedicated career officials. We will move with a sense of urgency on climate change. We will stand up for environmental justice and equity.”
Every Senate Democrat voted to confirm Regan. So did 16 Republicans, including both Senators from Regan's home state of North Carolina.
“During his time working for North Carolina, Secretary Regan demonstrated his commitment to sound environmental stewardship and to building constructive relationships with those who may have different points of view," Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said in a statement. "I applaud the Senate’s bipartisan support of this qualified nominee, and look forward to working with him in this new role.”
Regan is inheriting an agency in disarray. The Trump administration rolled back dozens of the EPA’s air, climate, and water protections; prioritized big polluters while sidelining career experts; took down hundreds of references to climate change on the agency’s websites; and publicly chastised the agency. In response, more than 800 staffers have left, and morale among those who have stayed is at a record low.
Now Regan is tasked with rebuilding the agency while simultaneously moving full speed ahead with President Joe Biden’s ambitious plans to tackle the climate crisis, which include passing rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions and hold polluters accountable.
So far, the Biden administration has already identified more than 100 Trump-era environmental regulations to possibly reverse, including 48 from the EPA. Biden has ordered the reinstatement of science advisory boards disbanded by Trump officials, launched a review of scientific integrity standards across the government, and directed every agency, including the EPA, to identify ways to cut its own carbon footprint.
Biden created a national climate task force led by his department heads, including Regan, to coordinate a federal response to the climate crisis for the first time. He also directed the US to rejoin the Paris climate agreement as one of his first acts as president.
Regan, an EPA alum, spent the past four years serving as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, where he helped negotiate one of the nation’s largest coal ash spill settlements and created the state’s first-ever Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board. Before that, he was a top climate official and Southeast regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund.
“Environmental justice is something that is near and dear to my heart,” Regan told Congress. “What I plan to do, first and foremost, is find the resources and establish an environmental justice adviser to the administrator.”
Among his other initial actions, Regan has pledged to do a damage assessment of the last four years. But many EPA staffers have warned that rebuilding the agency will be challenging.
“While EPA workers have great hope for the Biden administration,” Gary Morton, an EPA union president, told Congress on Wednesday, “the fact is that the EPA was decimated after four years of nonstop attacks from the Trump administration.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.