UPDATE 12/17/20: The Associated Press reports that Biden has chosen Michael Regan to serve as EPA Administrator. This blog will updated as new information comes to light.
Joe Biden apparently never expected the intense pressure from environmental justice advocates to remove Mary Nichols from consideration to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, but it appears to have been effective; Nichols is no longer said to be the frontrunner candidate.
Biden now appears to be scrambling to fill the position, (and hopefully with a person of color, as Heated’s Emily Atkin observed) to address concerns about environmental injustice. The problem? His assumption that simply choosing a non-white candidate would alleviate concerns about this crucial government agency has frustrated activists even more.
After news broke that Michael Regan, who currently leads the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, was the new frontrunner to lead the EPA — and was also being considered to be director of the EPA’s Southeast Region Office — environmental justice leaders in North Carolina began pushing back immediately.
Regan supported the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline despite major opposition from environment, faith, justice, community, and Indigenous groups. His department also failed to respond to recommendations from the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board to halt the construction extension. He also allowed a major liquid natural gas facility to be built in the middle of Lumbee territory, the largest indigenous tribe East of the Mississippi, and was accused of failing to initiate public discourse or government-to-government consultation before the facility was built.
Regan led a department that approved every permit application from the wood pellet industry in North Carolina despite the industry’s massive deforestation problems and failed to resolve critical environmental issues related to hog waste disposal.
Moreover, environmental justice leaders were alarmed that under his leadership, air and water quality permits were issued without consideration of Civil Rights Act guidelines intended to protect communities from disproportionate and cumulative impact. Purportedly, Regan issued permits solely based on legal guidelines without assessment of the extensive risk and harm to environmental, public, and climate health in North Carolina. Under Regan, the Department of Environmental Quality also failed to address the massive number of incentives, subsidies, and grants from the North Carolina Commerce Department that were being provided to industries known to cause harm to environmental and human health.
If Biden is serious about his commitment to “always listen […] never stop fighting for the African American community [… and] never stop fighting for a more equitable future[,]” this moment calls for actually listening to those who know Regan’s record. The leadership of this decade’s Environmental Protection Agency could not be more important.