Regan Faces Senate Committee Wednesday

EPA Nominee Regan Tells Grassley Biofuels Part of Biden Climate Plan

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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EPA Administrator nominee Michael Regan will be questioned by a Senate committee on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said he wants regulatory stability in agriculture when considering the Biden administration's nominee to head the EPA, Michael Regan.

In a recent conversation with Regan ahead of his Wednesday hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Grassley said he expressed concern about how Regan would approach biofuels and regulating water on farms.

The biofuels and agriculture industries have faced ups and downs with the implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard and the waters of the United States definitions, dating back to 2015 and beyond.

"Regan is more my concern, not about him personally but just because we traditionally have as agriculture a lot of trouble with EPA and biofuels," he said during a call with agriculture journalists on Tuesday.

"Yesterday, I had an introductory phone call with Mr. Regan. I stressed two important messages: First, the biofuel industry is so critical and, because it's such a critical industry to both agriculture and energy, it needs regulatory stability. That always is in doubt with the EPA, at least it was under both (former President Barack) Obama and (former President Donald) Trump."

Don Parish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said it is likely farmers will see a "180" when it comes to environmental regulations.

"I expect more clarity in the days to come as more and more politicals (appointees) take the reins of various government departments and agencies," Parrish told DTN.

"Our counsel would be that neither water resources nor farmers and ranchers benefit from a wide pendulum swing. We believe the Navigable Waters Protection Rule struck the right balance -- one that protects the resource and provides farmers and ranchers with the clarity and certainty they need to farm their land."

Parrish said there are two court rulings that "expressly limit" federal agencies' regulatory reach.

"And the last thing farmers and ranchers need or want would be to go back to significant nexus -- whatever that term means," Parrish said.

"Farmers and ranchers are pragmatic and welcome the opportunity to start a dialogue."

The 2015 WOTUS rule used significant nexus science as a basis to show all water bodies are connected and subject to regulation.

The Biden administration did not respond to DTN's requests for an interview with Michael Regan.

RENEWABLE FUELS

The EPA already is behind on setting the 2021 renewable volume obligations in the Renewable Fuel Standard, and the Biden administration has yet to indicate how it will handle the small-refinery exemption program.

Grassley said he told Regan EPA should apply nationally a January 2020 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. The court ruled EPA illegally granted small-refinery exemptions to three companies.

"Regan told me that biofuels are a major tool in Biden administration's plan to combat climate change," Grassley said.

Later this week, Grassley said he, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., will be sending a letter to the Biden administration asking it to "take action on pressing policy decisions that will shape the future of the RFS." That includes concerns about the RFS in 2022 when statutory requirements run out.

"It'll be up to EPA to set those, and I urged Regan not to do anything less than what the law requires now and hopefully more requirements for biofuels," Grassley said.

WATERS OF THE UNITED STATES

Grassley said he discussed with Regan the future of the waters of the United States definitions. This will be the third consecutive administration likely to make changes to the law.

"According to the Iowa Farm Bureau, being governed by waters of the U.S. rule was a problem," Grassley said.

"That would be for permitting for Iowa farmers, and they don't need that sort of interference with their job of producing food, fiber and fuel for the American consumers. I am anticipating that they're going to do something in that area. I don't think they're going to be able to do it overnight."

When the Trump administration finalized the Navigable Waters Protection Rule in January 2020, Regan expressed his opposition to the rule, which was touted by most farm groups as an improvement on the 2015 WOTUS rule.

"We are highly concerned about the impact of the revised 'waters of the U.S.' rule on North Carolina's wetlands," Regan said in a Jan. 24, 2020, press statement as director of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

"The rule clearly ignores the science-based recommendations provided by this department to ensure the protection of the state's water quality, unique natural resources and the economic benefits associated with them."

In comments from Regan's DEQ on the proposed rule in April 2019, his department said it advocated for a "science-based approach to defining the waters of the United States to preserve water quality and provide clarity for landowners."

The NCDEQ objected to "arbitrary changes in defining protected waters and raised concerns about the regulatory gap created by the changes that would need to be filled by new rules, laws and personnel to protect wetlands."

LISTENS TO AGRICULTURE

Grassley said he was encouraged by Regan in that he said Regan listened to concerns raised by agriculture during his tenure as director of the NCDEQ.

National farm organizations including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association and National Corn Growers Association have expressed optimism about Regan.

"Michael Regan took the time to visit our farms and learn about the pork industry and kept the door open for continued dialogue," the North Carolina Pork Council said in a statement to DTN.

"While we haven't always seen eye to eye, we generally found him to be fact-based and thoughtful about decisions related to our industry. We feel it is important to have someone like Regan who is familiar with the environmental issues facing agriculture and feeding a growing population, including the critical role agriculture will continue to play in addressing the climate crisis."

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Todd Neeley