OMAHA (DTN) -- President-elect Joe Biden will select North Carolina's top environmental regulator, Michael Regan, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency at a time when the next EPA chief will play a major role in the future of biofuels.
While no official word was released, several news organizations reported Regan as the nominee for EPA, followed by Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., as nominee for Interior secretary.
Shawn Harding, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, gave Regan a strong endorsement, stating to DTN that Farm Bureau considers Regan as fair and that he welcomed feedback from a variety of stakeholders. Harding added Regan has shown he supports science-based policy decisions as well.
"We appreciate that Sec. Regan has always kept an open door to agriculture and been willing to listen to farmers' needs and concerns," Harding said. "When we invited him to join us for a farm tour to gain a practical understanding of how N.C. Department of Environmental Quality actions affect farmers and rural residents, he readily accepted.
"As a native of one of North Carolina's top agricultural counties, Regan carries insight into the broader scope of the impact of environmental policy, which we believe will serve him well as the nation's top environmental regulator."
With 5 billion bushels of corn annually going to ethanol production, corn producers rely heavily on policy stability surrounding the Renewable Fuel Standard. The future of the RFS and biofuel demand will hinge on Biden's EPA moving forward in setting 2021 blend volumes but also transitioning the RFS after 2022 when EPA will take on more responsibility setting annual blend volumes for ethanol, biodiesel and advanced biofuels.
Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper congratulated Regan on the nomination. Cooper also pointed out that ethanol can help reduce emissions going forward.
"We congratulate Michael Regan on his nomination to be EPA administrator. We look forward to working with the new administration to ensure that low-carbon renewable fuels like ethanol play an expanded role in efforts to slash toxic tailpipe pollution, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and combat climate change," Cooper said. "President-elect Joe Biden understands the importance of a strong Renewable Fuel Standard and has soundly denounced the outgoing administration's actions to undermine the RFS; we are eager to work with the next EPA administrator to put the RFS back on track and accelerate decarbonization of our nation's transportation fuels."
Growth Energy released a statement, noting "Our priority is to ensure that those appointed to the president's cabinet and agency positions understand the necessity of biofuels like ethanol in our nation's climate agenda and clean energy policies. We look forward to working with Mr. Regan to help meet the goals laid out by the President-elect Biden in his Build Back Better plan and his commitment to a strong RFS. These include identifying ways to: decarbonize our nation's existing transportation fleet, replace toxic pollutants in gasoline, and support family farms and jobs to help rural communities."
Regan, 44, has overseen North Carolina's environmental agency since 2017. Minority leaders and social justice groups have been pressuring Biden and his team to pick a diverse cabinet that would emphasize social justice.
While Regan has been in office, there has been increased focus in North Carolina to use the state's large swine industry to convert hog manure into renewable natural gas. The North Carolina Energy Policy Council, which worked with Regan's agency, proposed aggressively developing renewable natural gas as a way to help improve both air and water quality in the state.
More than a decade ago, Regan also served on the North Carolina Energy Policy Council to make recommendations on renewable energy policy. Among those were also strategies to sequester methane emission from livestock by using anaerobic digesters.
Biden has declared his administration will aggressively focus on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels. That puts Regan in the middle of expected battles over how to lower emissions from power plants, as well as reducing emissions from vehicles. Party balance in the U.S. Senate is still waiting on the Georgia runoffs in early January, so it's unclear if Biden will get the support of Congress for his climate strategy. Still, Regan could also reverse some of the efforts under the Trump administration to roll back environmental regulations.
Regan also had worked in EPA's air quality programs under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. He oversaw programs focused on reducing pollution and improving air quality. Just prior to his appointment in 2017 to head North Carolina's environmental agency, Regan worked for Environmental Defense Fund as Southeast regional director, focusing on climate change and air quality.
Much like he might see at EPA, Regan took over the North Carolina post after years of budget cuts and low morale. Regan pushed a major settlement with Duke Energy at the end of last year to clean up nearly 80 million tons of coal ash around the state.
That was an instance where Regan's work drew praise from groups representing low-income and minority communities because Duke had initially refused to settle litigation over the situation. North Carolina also is one of the states that has demanded companies clean up perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals, dubbed "forever chemicals" because of their long-lasting environmental impacts. That's another situation that will demand more attention by EPA as well. Biden has called for declaring those chemicals as toxic substances.
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said Regan's nomination "makes it clear that Joe Biden is serious about making real progress on climate change, improving public health and addressing environmental justice. He will ensure that science, law and a commitment to a healthier future will be at the center of America's environmental policies. I am thrilled that this great leader will be guiding the EPA at this critical moment, as we determine what kind of future we will leave to our children and grandchildren."
FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN IN ROLE
At Interior, Haaland, 60, would be the first Native American to serve in the position that plays a heavy role in dealing with tribes as well as Western land management.
Biden has already said he wants to halt new oil and natural gas drilling on public lands. That proposal already has seen significant pushback from both the petroleum industry and governors of some Western states.
Interior also oversees national parks and monuments, and the next Interior secretary will oversee the implementation of Great American Outdoors Act, which was passed by Congress last summer.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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