President-elect Joe Biden has selected Michael S. Regan, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, to head the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Regan has directed the North Carolina agency since 2017. He has overseen the state’s efforts to identify and obtain cleanup of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in water, air, and soil, notably in the state’s Cape Fear River watershed. In April, Regan’s agency demanded a tougher cleanup plan from Chemours. The chemical company’s plant outside Fayetteville is the source of a number of novel PFAS found in the river and in the blood of people who drank public tap water drawn from the waterway.
Regan’s experience with PFAS pollution could be a plus for the EPA, says Clean Cape Fear, a coalition of community and advocacy organizations.
“If the Biden administration is truly ready to tackle PFAS contamination in a health-protective way and is willing to give Secretary Regan the freedom needed to accomplish those goals, we believe he is more than qualified to lead the way,” Clean Cape Fear says in a statement.
Unlike an increasing number of states, the federal agency has no enforceable limits for any PFAS in drinking water. The EPA is exploring whether to deem a handful of toxic and persistent types of PFAS as hazardous substances, a move that would pave the way for federal cleanup requirements.
Regan has taken decisive action on other contamination in North Carolina as well. Earlier this year, his department, along with community and environment groups, secured a massive cleanup of coal ash from electric utility Duke Power. In addition, “Secretary Regan conceptualized and operationalized North Carolina’s Executive Order 80—a landmark effort to address climate change’s impact and transition the state’s energy economy,” Biden’s announcement says.
But Regan’s work in North Carolina meets with criticism as well. Donna Chavis, senior fossil fuels campaigner for the advocacy group Friends of the Earth, expressed disappointment about Regan’s selection, on the basis of his environmental justice record as head of the state agency. “Secretary Regan has not always followed all avenues in support of or on behalf of communities who face disproportionate and cumulative environmental impacts,” says Chavis, who works in North Carolina.
Chris Jahn, the president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, says the US chemical sector’s main lobbying group is ready to work with Regan at the EPA. “Our industry looks forward to engaging with him and the dedicated civil servants at the agency to help ensure the nation’s key environmental statutes are administered in a way that protects human health and the environment, especially among the most vulnerable people and places in America.”
Before taking the reins at the North Carolina agency, Regan worked for the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, where he focused on mitigating the impacts of climate change and air quality pollution. Early in his career, he worked for a decade in the EPA’s air-quality programs under former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
If confirmed by the Senate, Regan will become the EPA’s second Black administrator. The first was Lisa Jackson, who served under former president Barack Obama.