Under questioning from GOP senators, Regan, 45, vowed to “follow the law, not exceed my statutory authority” in enacting a slew of new regulations on everything from powerplants to vehicle tailpipes, mercury emissions to waterways.
Meanwhile, Regan told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday: “We can’t simply regulate our way out of every problem we face.”
“If you want to address complex challenges, you must be able to see them from all sides. You have to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes,” he continued.
The Trump administration rolled back over 100 environmental rules it said were unnecessary and burdensome to business, and Biden campaigned promising to put them back in place.
Since Biden took office last month, Republicans have been enraged by a series of executive orders aimed at shifting the country away from fossil fuels — from canceling the Keystone XL pipeline permit to issuing a one-year pause on oil and gas leasing on federal lands.
TC Energy has said that it had hoped to employ more than 11,000 in 2021 to build the pipeline and generate more than $1.6 billion in wages. About 1,000 were laid off as a result of the order.
Asked why Biden hadn’t consulted with states before issuing the order, Regan said he described the orders as “setting goals and visions.”
“They leave plenty of room for how these things will be implemented,” he said.
Regan was introduced approvingly by two Republican senators from his home state — Thom Tillis and Richard Burr. Burr called Regan “extremely qualified” and Tillis said Regan was someone lawmakers could “rely on to be fair.”
Burr said that Regan’s work to clean up agriculture in his home state balanced “the values of environmental stewardship with the needs of rural communities.”
Regan, who would be the first Black EPA administrator, stressed his commitment to standing up for environmental justice and to working with community and business groups “who know their own communities better than the federal government ever could.″
Regan told of his own experience where he had to use an inhaler due to a respiratory condition he said was worsened by heavily polluting factories and power plants in Eastern North Carolina.
West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Capito questioned whether the Biden administration’s commitment to environmental justice would fall back on itself if impoverished communities they tried to protect from pollution ended up losing jobs in the process. Coal mine closures hit states like West Virginia especially hard.
“Where’s the justice when many people are plunged into poverty, drug addiction, and homelessness?” she asked Regan.
“It is hard to build back better, as the president has said, if we can’t build anything,” Capito added.
McCarthy said last week Biden’s new executive action would establish a “working group” dedicated to revitalizing coal and power plant communities to offset losses.
Capito also questioned what Regan’s role would be in the Biden climate agenda, given that the White House has already tasked other officials with overseeing the matter.
She asked if climate officials are going to be “tripping over each other,” as Regan will likely work with the direction of Gina McCarthy, domestic climate adviser, and John Kerry, special climate envoy.
“Who is really going to be making decisions?″ Capito asked. She voiced concerns that “unelected and unaccountable” climate “czars” would wield real influence while avoiding congressional scrutiny.
Regan said he anticipates a “healthy debate” on the issues, but added that he answers to Biden, not Kerry or McCarthy.
For the past four years, Regan has served as North Carolina’s chief environmental regulator. Under Regan the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality blocked a certification to extend the Mountain Valley pipeline but approved one for the since-abandoned Atlantic Coast pipeline, clashing with environmentalists.
Regan also secured an agreement with Duke Energy to clean up a massive coal ash contamination spill.
Before that, Regan spent years with the Environmental Defense Fund and worked as an environmental regulator in both the Clinton and Bush administrations from 1998-2008.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.