UPDATED: 7:30 p.m. ET, March 10, 2021
Original story: Dec. 18, 2020
Regan was nominated for the position by then-President-Elect Joe Biden in December to confront the hodgepodge of environmental issues left behind by Donald Trump and his administration that he is uniquely qualified to handle from Day 1.
In addition to the coronavirus pandemic and its lingering environmental implications, chief among those obstacles is the intentional dismantling of environmental policies that have disproportionately affected the country’s Black and brown populations — also known as environmental racism.
That’s reportedly a major part of the reason why Biden chose Regan for the job.
Regan has experience bringing the political gap when it comes to confronting some of the biggest environmental issues facing the United States, including climate change and cleaning up coal ash, the latter being a big problem in North Carolina that also affects many other states.
Democratic Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth said she voted to confirm Regan and was optimistic about what he would accomplish leading the EPA.
“Administrator Michael Regan is answering the call to help protect our nation’s citizens and is committed to helping protect America’s environment, waterways and farms,” Duckworth said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “I’m hopeful he will be a strong advocate for environmental justice, advanced biofuels and undertaking the climate crisis as the leader of President Biden’s EPA. I look forward to working with him in addressing environmental and public health challenges for Illinoisans – and all Americans.”
It was Regan’s “work with disadvantaged communities” that “helped win him” the EPA nomination, the Washington Post reported late last year while citing a source who was granted anonymity.
“Regan realizes that America’s environmental laws and policies must, first and foremost, protect the most vulnerable,” the source told the Post at the time. “Growing up with asthma in eastern North Carolina, Regan saw toxic pollution, agricultural waste and environmental destruction being concentrated near communities of color and low-income communities.”
To be sure, statistics and studies have shown that climate change disproportionately affects Black people and communities of color more so than their whiter counterparts.
All of the above makes Regan perfect for the job, North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams said when he was nominated.
“Michael Regan is a well-qualified, historic pick. In Washington, he helped both Democrats and Republicans address air quality issues. Here in the Tar Heel State, Michael was a leader on environmental justice issues, including the historic coal ash settlement with Duke Energy,” Adams said in a statement emailed to NewsOne.
Regan is also a graduate of North Carolina A&T University, a historically Black college, a factor that Adams said will serve to his and the country’s benefits following the past four years counterproductive environmental policies.
“Finally, we cannot address environmental justice without addressing environmental racism, so I am glad to have an HBCU graduate working to undo the environmental damage of the Trump Administration,” Adams added.
The task to educate Black and brown people in America about the terror climate change is afflicting upon them and their communities has been somewhat of a heavy lift. That was due in no small part to a climate-denying president whose recent claims that the nation’s air has never been cleaner was emphatically disproved by the EPA, which said pollution had actually increased since President Barack Obama left office. And since Trump has made no secret of his disdain for working-class Black and brown folks, he and his administration have been complicit in what one activist called “slower killers” in describing climate change.
Regan also has experience dealing with man-made environmental crises, not unlike the Flint Water Crisis in the predominately Black eponymous Michigan city that killed at least a dozen people. He was praised for his involvement in a high profile case that included him ordering a chemical company to keep its toxic products from tainting a North Carolina river. Those polyfluoroalkyl chemicals have caused serious health problems for people exposed to them, including in some cases cancer.
In addition, Regan created an environmental justice task force on year after he was appointed to the position in 2017, underscoring his commitment to fighting environmental racism.
Trump’s environmental policies have harmed Black people the most. A 2017 report found that Blacks are 38 percent more likely to be exposed to air pollutants than Whites. That’s because Black people are 75 percent more likely to live near industrial facilities that release toxic emissions. Those findings led the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force to jointly call for better environmental rules and urge people to contact their representatives.
Segregated communities have also been linked to environment-caused ailments like childhood asthma, which also disproportionately affects Black youth.
Another byproduct of climate change has been the continued widening of the world’s racial wealth gap, according to a study published earlier this year.
“The estimated parabolic relationship between temperature and economic growth means that long-term warming will generally increase growth in cool countries and decrease growth in warm countries, the research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded.
This all seemed to be by design, the NAACP suggests in its Environmental and Climate Justice Program. “[R]ace – even more than class – is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country,” according to the civil rights group’s program. “And communities of color and low income communities are often the hardest hit by climate change.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Michael Regan as the first Black person to lead the EPA. He is actually the first Black man to hold the post. The story has been updated to reflect this correction.