President Joe Biden’s pick for EPA administrator on Wednesday told skeptical Republican senators that environmental progress can also foster economic growth.
The nominee, Michael Regan, made his comments before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is responsible for reviewing Biden's selection to run an agency key to the new administration’s climate agenda.
Regan said he’s been able to bring together environmental groups and the private sector in his role as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
“If confirmed I will work with the entire administration to build and strengthen that partnership to power America’s economy with cleaner energy and create millions of good-paying, middle-class jobs,” Regan said.
“Our priorities for the environment are clear. We will restore the role of science and transparency at EPA," he said. "We will support the dedicated and talented career officials. We will move with a sense of urgency on climate change and we will stand up for environmental justice and equity.”
That testimony reflects the role Regan would play in delivering on Biden’s core pledge to tackle several major crises that include climate change, racial inequity and a struggling economy.
Republican members of the committee pressed Regan sharply at times about Biden’s early executive actions that included canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, freezing oil and gas leases on federal lands and rejoining the Paris climate agreement. They said those moves are killing American jobs even as Democrats call for more economic stimulus.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to be killing any jobs when we’re in this major recession?” Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, asked.
Regan responded that the administration supports significant investments in infrastructure and creating new opportunities for displaced workers to apply their existing skills. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to kill jobs,” Regan said. “I think it’s a good idea to ensure we are transitioning the economy towards where we know the jobs will be.”
Members pressed Regan for commitments on a range of environmental issues, to which he often offered general pledges to work with all parties involved.
Renewable Fuel Standard
Pressed by both supporters and critics of the federal biofuels mandate known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, Regan simply offered that he would follow the law and seek to make the agency’s decisions more transparent.
The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, served as chairwoman of the hearing while joking about how she will soon be passing the gavel to the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, as the Senate switches party control this session.
Capito said she fears that Biden’s agenda will represent a third Obama administration when it comes to environmental regulation. She said the Obama agenda had a negative impact on her home state.
Capito also suggested that more environmental regulations could hamper Biden’s goals of improving the country’s infrastructure.
“It is hard to ‘build, back, better’ as the president has said, if we can’t build anything,” Capito said.
Carper touted Regan’s accomplishments in North Carolina, which included negotiating the largest coal ash cleanup settlement in U.S. history and creating the state’s first environmental justice and equity advisory board.
“Mr. Regan has been able to do these things and much more by bringing people together in common cause while never compromising on his principles,” Carper said.
Working with GOP
The hearing represents Regan’s first test of whether he can work with Republicans while at the same time pursuing the kind of aggressive climate action sought by many Democrats and environmental advocates.
Regan served as a career official at the EPA under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and has the support of a number of environmental organizations.
Dominique Browning, director and co-founder of the group Moms Clean Air Force, urged senators to support the nomination.
“Regan will inherit an agency that must move forward to pursue an ambitious agenda to better protect the health of all Americans and redress the grievous social disparities in who gets clean water and who breathes clean air,” Browning said.
The oil and gas industry, on the other hand, is looking for assurances that they still have a place at the table.
“We hope that Mr. Regan recognizes our ongoing commitment to reducing emissions and signals his willingness to include our industry in discussions about regulations that protect the environment, while allowing us to continue to produce oil and natural gas here in America,” said Anne Bradbury, CEO of the American Exploration and Production Council.
“As the U.S. leads the world in emissions reductions, and fossil fuels will continue to support our modern life for decades to come, any real solutions to address the global issue of climate change should include American oil and gas.”