OMAHA (DTN) -- Michael Regan is the new administrator of the EPA after the full U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination in a 66-34 vote on Wednesday.
Regan, the former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, faces big questions about the future of regulation in agriculture as he takes the helm of the agency. The Biden administration has undertaken a review of numerous Trump administration efforts to deregulate agriculture.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said on the Senate floor Regan has the character to do the job.
"We should ask of any nominee to ensure everyone gets a fair hearing at their agency," Burr said. "That's exactly why North Carolina's agricultural community supports his nomination. It's our job to ascertain whether a nominee has the knowledge and experience to do the job the president has nominated them for. But, too often, we overlook whether a nominee has the right character to lead an organization. In this case, there's no question that Michael Regan has that character."
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who pushed EPA under the Trump administration over ethanol policy, said in a statement she was unable to support Regan's nomination.
"While I appreciate Mr. Regan's experience working on environmental issues and his commitment to taking into consideration the opinions of our farmers when it comes to implementing the Biden agenda, I still have serious concerns about the path this administration will take on issues like renewable fuel and agency rulemaking," she said.
"President (Joe) Biden has already taken steps to roll back the Trump administration's Navigable Waters Protection Rule and transition the federal fleet to electric vehicles."
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., said on the Senate floor prior to the vote she has concerns about the direction EPA will head.
"Throughout his confirmation process, Secretary Regan did not commit to a different policy agenda than that of the Obama administration, an agenda that absolutely devastated my state," she said.
"He did not rule out a return to the WOTUS (waters of the United States) rule. He could not say whether the EPA would again claim overarching authority to force states to shift their electric electricity generation sources. He could not commit to real changes."
The Biden administration announced a review of a number of federal regulations, including Trump's Navigable Waters Protection Rule, changes made to the Endangered Species Act, National Ambient Air Quality standards for particulate matter, the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, and action to keep chlorpyrifos-based pesticides on the market despite pushback from environmentalists.
In court, the EPA recently was granted a motion to delay a lawsuit challenging the previous administration's actions on atrazine and three related herbicides, https://www.dtnpf.com/….
The government indicated in court documents the administration may be changing course on those herbicides. The previous administration fought to keep atrazine on the market.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in February questioned Regan on his approach to regulating water and implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard, https://www.dtnpf.com/…, and in particular whether his agency would return to the 2015 waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule and whether it would continue to grant small-refinery exemptions to the RFS.
Even before Regan's confirmation, the EPA announced it had changed course on the previous administration's track on small-refinery exemptions, https://www.dtnpf.com/….
BIOFUEL PATHWAYS GOING FORWARD
Regan's EPA has several 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. EPA also will set a course for how the agency will oversee the RFS after 2022.
American Coalition for Ethanol CEO Brian Jennings said Regan has some work to do on the RFS.
"We congratulate Michael Regan on his confirmation to formally lead EPA and look forward to working with him to address the long to-do list he inherits with respect to the RFS," Jennings said in a statement.
Jennings said EPA must rein in small-refinery exemptions and restore 500 million gallons in biofuel blend obligations stemming from a 2017 court case. EPA also needs to deal with both 2021 and 2022 renewable volume obligations, he said.
Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, said she expects Regan to support biofuels.
"Administrator Regan has been on the record supporting biofuels as critical to help meet an ambitious climate agenda, committing to following the letter of the law on the Renewable Fuel Standard, and pledging transparency on any small-refinery exemption decisions," she said.
Regan vowed he would run the EPA with an open-door policy and consider the voices of all stakeholders.
Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said he believes Regan will consider concerns from the biofuels industry as administrator.
"We were pleased to hear Administrator Regan say that agriculture and biofuels will have 'a seat at the table' as our nation tackles climate change," Cooper said, "and we believe ethanol will be a critical component of the drive toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."
CLEAN WATER ACT
When it comes to the regulation of water on farms and ranches, the pendulum has swung back and forth since 2015 when the WOTUS rule drew pushback from states, farmers, ranchers and other industries across the country. The rule was seen by some as a federal overreach and sparked concerns about private property rights.
Environmental, conservation and other interests supported WOTUS because it expanded the number of water bodies covered by the Clean Water Act.
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 he understands farmers' concerns based on his experience as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
When asked if he supports a new water rule similar to the 2015 WOTUS, he said: "(What) 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."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
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