How long can EPA nominee’s romance with GOP last?

Source: By James Osborne, Houston Chronicle • Posted: Monday, February 8, 2021

Nominee for EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, speaks at the Queen theater on December 19, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. President-elect Joe Biden announced his climate and energy team that will advance an ambitious agenda to address the issues of climate change.
Nominee for EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, speaks at the Queen theater on December 19, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. President-elect Joe Biden announced his climate and energy team that will advance an ambitious agenda to address the issues of climate change. Joshua Roberts, Stringer / TNS

WASHINGTON – A hunter and fisherman from the south, and a regulator who has upset environmentalists by giving industry a place at the table in rule making, Michael Regan might have seemed an unusual choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency in a Biden administration stacked with progressives.

But if Wednesday’s confirmation hearing was any indication, it was a calculated one. News coverage that evening extolled Regan’s bipartisan bonadfides and talents as a “listener” and “consensus builder,” at a time Biden has made clear he intends to begin the contentious process of shifting the country away from oil and other fossil fuels.

Regan, the top environmental regulator in North Carolina, was not only introduced by his state’s two GOP senators but spent much of the first half hour of his confirmation hearing exchanging grins with Republicans as he promised his door would be open to everyone.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of good discussions,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., a fierce protector of his state’s oil and gas industry.

It seemed a long way from the testy relationship between the GOP and EPA administrators during the Obama administration. Even four years after Gina McCarthy stepped down as head of the agency, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., was still complaining Wednesday how McCarthy never visited her state.

“It really stung,” she said.

But before anyone takes Wednesday’s pleasantries as signs of a grand bipartisan deal on climate change in the works, new administrations and opposition parties have a habit of getting along at the outset.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who in 2015 famously brought a snow ball to the Senate floor as evidence global warming wasn’t happening, recounted Wednesday his fond memories of Obama’s first EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, saying she keeps one of his Christmas cards on the wall of her office.

But those niceties have a habit of being pushed aside fairly quickly once political battles begin. Within four months of Jackson’s confirmation, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., was grilling her about a White House memo on the economic consequences of the administration’s decision to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

“You are mentioned on every page,” he said. “It seems to that decision was based more on political calculations than scientific ones.”

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And Regan’s confirmation hearing was not without tension, as Republicans lambasted Biden executive orders canceling the construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and putting a one-year moratorium on fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and waters.

Following one such speech, Regan tried to diffuse the tension, explaining, “We are facing a dire situation with climate change and (its) impacts. But I don’t think that’s to negate the fact that we all understand the anxiety and the fear as we make this transition that folks in your states have.”

That seemed to assuage some Republicans, with Capito telling Regan, “I want to be your partner on this,” even as she lambasted former Obama officials like McCarthy, whom Biden appointed his climate tsar.

“Not you. You’re a fresh face, very transparent, very ready to work,” Capito said.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Regan is expected to sail through the rest of the confirmation process swiftly. But the real test will come in the months and years ahead, as he gets beyond the listening stage to deciding how to go about the massive undertaking of getting the United States on the path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

In that task, it will take more than empathy for the plight of the fossil fuel workers if he is to win over Republicans.

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