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Biden to choose North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan to head EPA

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will appoint Michael S. Regan, secretary of the North Carolina Department for Environmental Quality, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, according to three people from the ‘Biden transition team.

Mr Regan only became Mr Biden’s first choice in recent days, said two people familiar with the selection process. The first was for several weeks Mary D. Nichols, California’s air quality regulator, but she faced significant criticism from liberal groups who accused her of not doing enough to solve the problems of environmental racism in his state.

Mr Biden has also come under pressure to make his cabinet choices more racially diverse. If confirmed, Regan is expected to place a strong emphasis on racial equity at the agency.

“This signals that the Biden administration is serious in bringing the EPA back to its core mission of protecting the environment and public health, as well as ensuring that strong and meaningful action is taken to move the issues forward.” environmental justice, ”said Brian Buzby, executive director of the North Carolina Conservation Network, a coalition of environmental groups.

Mr Biden has pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and, along the way, to eliminate fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035. If the Senate remains under Republican control and resists passage of climate legislation, much of it will be up to the EPA to enact regulations that can reduce global warming pollution from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas sites .

A longtime EPA air quality specialist working under both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, Mr. Regan later worked for the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit advocacy group. In 2017 Roy Cooper, a Democrat, defeated Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, in North Carolina and hired Mr. Regan to head the state’s environmental agency.

There he replaced Donald R. van der Vaart, a Trump administration ally who challenged established science of climate change and fought Obama-era rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and championed a business-friendly deregulation program in North Carolina.

Mr Regan’s supporters said he had improved morale in the troops and emphasized the role of science in the ministry. Several called it a clear parallel to what it would be supposed to do at the EPA where Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s administrator and former coal lobbyist, discouraged the agency from working on climate change, and independent auditors. have identified a “culture at the top” of political interference in science.

“It’s strange how this mirrored what happened to the EPA,” said Dan Crawford, director of government relations at the Conservation Voters League of North Carolina, who called it “refreshing.” choice of Mr. Regan to lead the federal agency.

Mr van der Vaart in an interview called Mr Regan a “nice boy”, but said the Environment Quality Ministry under his leadership made bad decisions, including in a deal with Duke Energy on cleaning up coal ash, which he said could lead to price increases for customers.

He rebuffed the idea that morale had taken a hit under his leadership. Regarding climate change policy, Mr van der Vaart said, under Mr Regan’s leadership, ‘very little has been done anyway, so I’m not sure where it is. precisely located the improvement on this issue.

Mr. Regan’s selection is in many ways a conventional choice. Democratic presidents have a history of poaching EPA leaders from state environmental agencies. Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson, who both ran the agency under President Obama, had served as heads of state environmental agencies; Ms. McCarthy in Massachusetts and Ms. Jackson in New Jersey.

But Mr Regan’s name only appeared on Sunday after weeks of speculation Ms Nichols from California had a lock on the job.

Ms Nichols, a champion of aggressive regulation, would have faced fierce opposition from Republicans, something Biden’s team was prepared for. But, said several people close to the transition, Mr Biden was caught off guard by the intense criticism of Ms Nichols from the Liberals who argued that the cap-and-trade policies she had helped designing for California allowed industry to continue to pollute, causing disproportionate harm. poor communities.

In Mr Regan, said those close to the transition Biden, the president-elect hopes to find a candidate who hasn’t made many enemies left or right and who can also act quickly to chart an aggressive agenda.

He played a key role in helping Governor Cooper deliver on his pledge to achieve carbon neutrality in North Carolina by 2050, and oversees the state’s Interagency Council on Climate Change, a task force of state agencies set up to achieve this goal. In September, Regan presented a plan that called for cutting emissions from the electricity sector to 70 percent below 2005 levels over the next decade and dramatically accelerating clean energy development.

And, in January, Mr Regan’s agency struck a sweeping settlement deal with Duke Energy and environmental groups to require the utility to dispose of more than 76 million tonnes of coal ash submerged in lined landfills. . It will be the largest coal ash excavation in the country.

Coral Davenport contribution to reports.

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