Biden picks nominees to head EPA, Interior

Jan. 4, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden has named a North Carolina environmental regulator as his choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a Native American congresswoman to be Interior secretary.

Michael Regan, head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), was chosen by Biden with an announcement that stressed climate change and environmental justice concerns. Regan worked in the EPA under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and he also has worked for an advocacy group, the Environmental Defense Fund.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), was named for the Interior post with a statement highlighting her two years in Congress and the fact that she is a Native American and a single mother “who has lived paycheck to paycheck” and “knows the struggles many families face.”

NC gas pipeline issues

Regan worked in the EPA on air and energy issues and then in the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund before being appointed secretary of DEQ at the start of 2017.

During his 4 years at DEQ he has dealt with controversies over natural gas pipelines, coal ash pollution from power plants, and water contamination from synthetic materials in the category of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), used in the manufacture of a host of common industrial and household products.

The North Carolina DEQ under Regan issued a Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification in 2018 for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project owned by Dominion Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp., and Southern Co. The plan was later abandoned after litigation-driven delays (OGJ Online, July 6, 2020).

DEQ denied a water quality certification in 2020 to the proposed Southgate extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. DEQ questioned the need for the project.

“North Carolina’s clean energy future is not dependent on adding more natural gas infrastructure,” Regan said in an Aug. 11 statement. “Projects like this slow down the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gases.”

Biden’s announcement said 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.”

He has become one of the more prominent African Americans in environmental regulation, and Biden’s announcement made a point of noting that he “created North Carolina’s first Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board to address social disparities exacerbated by environmental issues.”

Freshman for Interior

Haaland, Biden’s choice the head Interior, is completing her first term in Congress. She has been on the House Natural Resources Committee for those 2 years but otherwise has no track record of legislation, regulation, or legal practice in dealing with the kinds of land management issues that dominate Interior.

Her record parallels that of Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump’s first Interior secretary. Zinke had been in Congress for one term, including a seat on the Natural Resources Committee, when Trump nominated him. His time at Interior lasted only 2 years as his policy proposals and public remarks triggered controversies (OGJ Online, Dec. 18, 2018).

Given the importance of oil and natural gas production on federal lands in Haaland’s home state of New Mexico, she may face some difficult balancing acts between that activity and Biden’s frequently expressed opposition to leasing and hydraulic fracturing.

Before being elected to Congress, Haaland earned a law degree, ran a small business canning salsa, and helped oversee a tribal gaming enterprise. Her congressional website notes that she is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, who have a reservation west of Albuquerque in the middle of New Mexico.

Advocacy groups for several weeks had been pushing for her to become the Interior nominee with much emphasis on the idea of appointing a Native American to the job. Biden echoed that focus in his announcement.

The Interior Department includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs but otherwise is primarily concerned with land management, ocean energy management, wildlife management and science, and geological sciences.