Gary Wilson's thoughts on Great Lakes issues and occasionally, other things
Senate confirms former North Carolina DEQ chief by wide margin, opportunities and challenges await
What a time to take the top job at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency is coming off four years of being a second class citizen in the previous administration. One of its core missions, regulation and enforcement of environmental laws, was relegated to the shadows and his boss.... the president is counting on him to be a key player in tackling climate change and to elevate environmental justice to a top priority.
This ain't rural North Carolina, Regan's home turf.
Praise for Regan after his appointment was mostly widespread. And even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to confirm him, though I don't think that means a wave of bipartisan comity is taking hold in Washington.
While environmental groups welcomed Regan, what's not to like after Trump guys Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler, one national group sounded an alarm.
Food and Water Watch said Regan "has a legacy of bowing to the factory farm industry even when it means sacrificing public health and contributing to pollution." Hog farming in North Carolina, Regan's home state, is a big business.
What does his appointment mean for the Great Lakes? Too soon to tell but his selection to run the Region 5 office in Chicago could signal his priorities. Region 5 has a checkered past going back to President Barack Obama.
The Chicago office had direct oversight of Michigan's DEQ on the Flint water crisis and failed to act. It resulted in the Region 5 administrator resigning. There's a $600 million dollar negligence suit working its way through federal courts against EPA over its handling of Flint under President Barack Obama's administrator, Gina McCarthy. McCarthy now has a top job in the Biden White House. Michigan recently settled legal claims with Flint residents but EPA, so far, has been playing out the legal string. Presumably, Regan will have to decide to either to let the suit run its course, or settle. What he does could be an indicator of his EJ credibility.
And one of the Great Lakes region's biggest issues is Lake Erie's algae blooms where over $100 million in Great Lakes restoration money has been spent with little to show for it. Again, EPA has oversight authority .
With environmental justice a top Biden priority, the Region 5 administrator will be put to the test as Detroit and Chicago have significant EJ issues in the spotlight, now. And both cities have strong, dynamic EJ movements who will have little patience for dawdling on their issues.
That's some of what awaits Regan and his Great Lakes region administrator.
But right now, all things are possible and fresh perspectives are needed.
Welcome Michael Regan.
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Chicago-based environmental journalist