WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency told lawmakers on Wednesday he will consult with states and other stakeholders as the agency determines how to deliver on the administration’s plans to tackle climate change and clean up pollution hotspots.
The comments came during an unusually cordial Senate confirmation hearing for the nation’s top environmental regulator, a nomination that has historically triggered fierce debate between Republicans and Democrats over how to balance U.S. green regulation with economic development.
“We all understand the anxiety and the fear as we make this transition that folks in your states have,” said Michael Regan, 44, referring to Biden’s plan to shift the country toward cleaner energy sources to combat global warming.
Regan is the former head of North Carolina’s environmental regulator, where he earned a reputation as a consensus builder, and would be the first Black man to lead the EPA if confirmed by the Senate.
Republicans have said they are worried a rapid shift away from fossil fuels would kill jobs and stunt economic growth in the world’s top producer of oil and gas and have already criticized some of Biden’s early moves like canceling the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, and pausing new leases for oil drilling on federal land.
But Regan did not face contentious exchanges at the hearing and appears poised for an easy confirmation.
He was introduced by North Carolina’s two Republican senators who endorsed him and praised his “fair” and bipartisan work in North Carolina, where he oversaw a settlement with Duke Energy Corp for the nation’s largest clean-up of coal ash.
Regan tried to assure lawmakers during the questioning that the transition to a clean energy economy laid out by Biden will benefit the entire country, creating jobs while reducing climate risks and pollution.
If confirmed, he would take the reins at a time the agency has been weakened by Trump-era budget and staff cuts.
Biden would rely on him as a key leader in a government-wide approach to tackle global warming after four years during which Trump used the agency to dismantle regulation to boost drillers, miners and manufacturers.
CARS AND POWER PLANTS
Regan said the EPA will use its legal authorities to regulate power plants and vehicle emissions, two of the biggest sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Biden has promised to decarbonize the power sector by 2035 and the entire economy by 2050, but has yet to detail how.
Regan said the EPA has a “clean slate” to work on new power plant regulations after the courts struck down the Trump EPA’s replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that required reductions in emissions from utilities.
He also said that the EPA will use its “statutory authority to set the rules for the road” for the automobile industry to set regulations that will “complement the aggressive goals set by and established by the... automobile industries.”
“We believe that the market is trending in a specific direction and we believe that we need the right policies and the right regulations to be sure that all of the players understand that there is a level playing field.”
Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat who is the incoming chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, praised a major auto trade group for sending a letter to Biden pledging to work on a compromise on vehicle emissions standards.
Carper noted General Motors Co last week set a goal to eliminate gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035. Carper said that zero emission vehicle aspiration “is not a pipe dream.”
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Lincoln Feast.
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