A month before being sworn in as POTUS, Joe Biden announced plans to appoint Michael Regan as EPA Administrator. Regan was subsequently confirmed in March 2021, and upon being sworn in later that month, he became the first Black man to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
This week, Regan appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where he spoke about his goals as EPA Administrator — making it clear that fighting for climate justice is his No. 1 priority. Keep reading to learn more about Michael Regan, what he has achieved in the EPA so far, and to read about the clever way he explained environmental justice on the talk show.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan: What you need to know
At 45 years old, Michael Regan has an impressive resume that helped him land the role of EPA Administrator. He previously worked as a staffer in the EPA air office; for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); and as North Carolina’s Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality.
Before kicking off his career working in the environmental field, he got his undergraduate degree from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, which is an HBCU, and later attended The George Washington University, where he received a master's degree in Public Administration, according to his official EPA bio.
In January 2022, Regan wrote a blog post on the EPA’s website, reflecting on what the agency has been working on for the first year of the Biden administration, including: reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); updating emissions standards for cars and trucks; reducing pollution from existing oil and natural gas plants for the first time ever; and, most importantly to Regan, advancing environmental justice.
Michael Regan spotlighted environmental justice on ‘The Daily Show.’
On Feb. 8, 2022, Regan sat down on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, along with host Trevor Noah, who has used his platform to educate viewers on climate change on many occasions. Regan started off the segment with his “origin story,” as Noah jokingly referred to it, explaining that his journey to a career in environmentalism started when he was a kid struggling with asthma, which was exacerbated on Ozone Action Days and heavy pollution days.
“Being outdoors meant everything to me,” Regan told Noah, adding that he loved spending time hunting and fishing with his father and grandfather. “And any moment that I missed being with them, I was in the house because I was on that inhaler, or worried about some pollution.”
Noah followed up by asking Regan what the EPA is doing about the many marginalized communities around the U.S. that deal with high pollution rates, often due to factories and other polluting infrastructure, which are “always in a place where the people that have the least access to power to oppose that.”
“Everything I do at EPA is through the lens of environmental justice,” Regan responded. “Contracting, procurement, air quality, [and] water quality land management starts with, ‘Are we protecting the least amongst us, those who have lacked political representation, and those who have not been at the table for decades?’”
Michael Regan tied climate justice to systemic racism.
“Systemic racism is by design, and the environment is no different than policing or … incarceration or housing,” Regan told Noah on the show. “You don't have to put every refinery and every pipeline in every Black and Brown neighborhood, or cutting across every tribal community or reservation. There are ways to think about how we do economic development and create jobs in a way that [doesn't] overly burden certain communities.”
Regan also spoke about how government leaders need to look at things like clean energy through a lens of “taking advantage of the future,” despite many politicians’ reluctance to evolve away from coal.
“At one point in time, people liked their rotary phones, and then all of a sudden we had iPhones,” Regan pointed out. “If we create platforms, technology will move to those platforms and drive society forward.”
He added that if the U.S. wants to move forward as a society, save the environment, fight environmental justice, and create jobs, we absolutely must lean into new technologies. “We should not be tied to the old way just because a lot of people were influenced or making money through the old mechanisms.”