The HBCU grad will be the first Black man to run the powerful agency since it was created in 1970. Regan has been leading the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and has a long history of working on climate issues.
The 44-year-old North Carolina A&T State University graduate was one of the main forces behind the groundbreaking billion-dollar settlement reached with Duke Energy in December 2019. The company agreed to undertake the country’s largest coal ash cleanup ever after dumping 80 million tons of coal ash into unlined ponds, according to WUNC.
He will now take the mantle of an agency charged with addressing dire problems like lax fuel-efficiency standards, growing carbon emissions and polluted cities.
In a message sent out in April, Regan spoke about his love of nature and his passion for protecting the environment.
"Growing up in Eastern North Carolina I spent a lot of time fishing and hunting with my grandad and dad. I can vividly remember sitting near the edge of the river waiting to catch the first fish of the day or watching our beagles chase rabbits. My love for the environment was instilled in me as a kid, and it has never left me. It is the reason I chose to make environmental protection my life’s work," Regan wrote.
"We must take immediate actions to combat the impacts of climate change, to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to ensure a cleaner, safer future. The same spirit of working together that we see in trying to stop the spread of COVID-19, from the government to individual citizens, is what we need to combat climate change. We cannot wait any longer."
The agency was decimated by officials appointed by President Donald Trump, who actively sought to undermine its mission and spent four years openly removing many of the hard-fought regulations over oil, gas and many other industries.
Andrew R. Wheeler, the current EPA administrator, spent decades as an oil and gas lobbyist and lawyer for Robert E. Murray, a notorious coal magnate. He has repeatedly downplayed the existence of climate change and has been hired by some of the most prominent climate change deniers in the country, according to The Guardian.
The Washington Post found that throughout Trump's presidency, his officials have been able to remove, damage or reverse more than 130 regulations and protections designed to stop polluters from destroying the environment.
Regan will now have to rebuild a hobbled agency that has lost almost 300 employees since rank-and-file EPA employees left due to the actions of Trump's appointees and officials.
Sources who spoke to The Washington Post told the newspaper that Regan is particularly interested in addressing environmental racism and is hoping to push for vulnerable communities to be better protected.
“Regan realizes that America’s environmental laws and policies must, first and foremost, protect the most vulnerable. Growing up with asthma in eastern North Carolina, Regan saw toxic pollution, agricultural waste and environmental destruction being concentrated near communities of color and low-income communities,” a source told The Washington Post.
There have been an endless amount of studies and reports showing Black communities, particularly those in cities, are often more polluted than any other areas, often near highways or dumpsites. In dozens of instances across the country, purposeful actions were taken to make the air or water quality in Black communities worse, as was seen most recently in Flint, Michigan, as Blavity previously reported.
In addition to his work on Duke Energy, Regan created North Carolina's environmental justice advisory board and fought a local chemical plant over a household product chemical that was causing cancer, low infant birth weights, immune system problems and thyroid hormone disruption, The Washington Post reported.
“He quickly restored morale and then solved big problems by respecting science and bringing together people with different views. That’s why he’s been so effective protecting public health and the environment in North Carolina’s government,” Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp told The Washington Post about Regan's time with the organization.
“As an Environmental Defense Fund staff from 2008 to 2016, Michael Regan led our efforts to grow clean energy and demonstrated a talent for working with unexpected allies to achieve monumental progress,” Krupp added.
Regan will be facing an uphill battle when he takes over the EPA. The world is already experiencing the effects of climate change, as seen earlier this year with the raging wildfires that destroyed significant parts of the West Coast or the brutal hurricanes that annually pound the South.
Anyone else wake up and think it was the middle of the night because it’s so dark out?
I FREAKED OUT when I saw it was 9:30AM and the sky looked like THIS: pic.twitter.com/4gjbyeHfJq
— Kate Larsen (@KateABC7) September 9, 2020
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that over the last five years, hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires and other environmental catastrophes have caused more than $530 billion in damage. In an interview with NPR, Regan said the EPA had to work at the local level to get emissions down.
"We need a partnership to be established, a very strong partnership with state and local governments as well as the private sector, to chart these goals. We have a lot of work to do. We've lost four years," he said.
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to join the Paris climate accords again but it will be difficult to catch up after Trump pulled the country out of the agreement shortly following his election.
As one of the pivotal members of the group that created the deal, Obama forced the U.S. government to commit to reducing emissions from greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2025. That will not be possible since Trump not only pulled out of the deal but rolled back regulations so that greenhouse gases would actually increase.
Due to the country's reliance on cars, trucks and household appliances, the country would need to cut emissions in half by 2030 to get to where Obama originally pledged, something that will not be possible, according to NPR.
But advocates like Dominique Browning, leader of advocacy group Moms Clean Air Force, said by choosing Regan, Biden was taking climate issues seriously.
"This nomination signals a high level of ambition for addressing issues of racial inequity in who breathes polluted air, and what can be done to get us to climate safety," Browning told NPR.