OMAHA (DTN) -- EPA Administrator nominee Michael Regan advanced from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, setting up a vote before the full Senate likely after Presidents Day on Monday.
Regan testified before the committee last week, facing a number of questions, including about his positions on the waters of the United States rule and the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Concerns were raised by several committee members about whether the Regan-led EPA would repeal the Trump Navigable Waters Protection Rule in favor of a rule similar to the 2015 WOTUS rule.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., said in a statement following the 14-6 vote that she was unable to support Regan.
"While I appreciate his willingness to visit West Virginia and assurances for transparency, Secretary Regan has not committed to a different policy course than Gina McCarthy took during the Obama administration," Capito said.
Capito pointed to being "deeply concerned about unaccountable climate czars in the White House and their control over EPA" and cited that environmental policy would be similar to the Obama administration with a possible return to the Clean Power Plan and a return of the Obama administration's 2015 WOTUS rule or a similar plan.
"Without clear commitments to oppose policies that would economically devastate West Virginia again, I cannot support him," Capito said.
Senate EPW Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said he supports Regan.
"Mr. Regan has experience bringing people together to solve our most pressing environmental issues and make sure no community gets left behind in the process," Carper said.
"As we advance his nomination, it's also critical that we focus our work on the issues that demand our attention. Climate change is the crisis of our time, and for too long, its dangerous impacts have been disproportionately shouldered by marginalized and low-income communities."
WATER RULE, RFS
Agriculture interests have largely supported the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. At the same time, Trump's EPA granted 88 small-refinery exemptions to the RFS starting in 2016.
Regan said during his confirmation hearing last week that he understands farmers' concerns based on his experience as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
"I also don't want to lose the opportunity to take a look at what we've learned with the Obama era," Regan said.
"I've been on the receiving end of both. I've had conversations with farmers about both. And I think that we do have a clear opportunity to look at how we protect our water quality, while not overburdening small farmers."
When Regan takes the reins at EPA, he will have a number of RFS issues to handle.
That includes finalizing renewable volume obligations in the RFS for 2021, pending cellulosic ethanol petitions and requests from governors to waive the RFS because of COVID-19.
Regan told the committee his EPA will need to review how it has handled the RFS and the next steps forward, calling the law a "priority for this administration."
When asked if he supports a new water rule similar to the 2015 WOTUS, "I would say is I'm looking forward to convening multiple stakeholder groups on how we chart a path forward. I don't believe that we have to sacrifice water quality at the expense of making sure that farmers, especially small farmers, have a fighting chance in this economy."
Regan said he understands it is "difficult for any kind of federal regulation to truly address the unique agricultural needs" of different regions.
"So, I want a rule that moves forward, that's not overly burdensome, but gives the states the flexibility to protect water quality and protect the local agricultural economy," he said.
"We're going to have an open-door policy. And I want to hear from our farming community; I want to hear about the administrative burdens that they felt they suffered as a result of some of what they call definitions that they did not understand."
The Environmental Working Group lauded the vote by the committee, in a statement on Tuesday.
"Michael Regan's performance before the committee shows he will bring the experience and commitment to environmental and public health protection that is required to lead the EPA," EWG Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber said.
"Regan's background, skills and allegiance to facts and science are exactly what is needed to rebuild the hobbled agency and address such critical issues as the PFAS contamination crisis affecting drinking water, toxic chemicals and pesticides, and air pollution -- all of which were ignored by Andrew Wheeler and former President Trump."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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