It's great news that the acronym once again stands for what it's meant to.
Michael Regan has perhaps the most challenging job within Joe Biden’s administration. As the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, he not only has to confront crucial climate issues, but must do so at the helm of a decimated institution that's still reeling from the chaos of the Donald Trump era.
Trump vowed to reduce the EPA to “little bits”, and although his plans to drastically cut the agency’s budget were largely rejected by Congress, the environmental regulator is now left with its fewest employees for 30 years. Indeed, an average of three scientists a week fled the agency during Trump’s term and, under Trump's command, the EPA acronym could perhaps have been better named the Environment Pillaging Agency.
Trump’s EPA laid siege to dozens of environmental regulations - from limits on traffic pollution to rules designed to stop coal plants dumping toxins into rivers to a ban on a pesticide linked with brain damage in children - often contrary to scientific advice and sometimes shortly after meetings with industry lobbyists. Mentions of climate change were not only scrubbed from the EPA website, the Trump administration even contemplated holding a televised debate as to whether it existed at all. It got so bad that mention of the climate crisis became verboten within the agency.
Scientific panels were purged of various experts and replaced with industry representatives who appeared to hold sway. Andrew Wheeler, Regan’s predecessor, was a former coal lobbyist who said acting on climate change was merely virtue signaling.
So, it's really good news that the commander-in-chief, Joe Biden, calls climate change the ‘number one issue facing humanity’ and has appointed a diligent, honest, well qualified and charasmatic man in the form of Michael Regan to lead the EPA.
Regan says: “We definitely feel the responsibility. We aren’t going to shrink away from our obligations. We are going to apply our statutory authority to solve as much of this problem [climate change] as we can as an agency. Yes, we have to revisit bad decisions, but the goal isn’t to get back to neutral: we have to make up for lost time. We are leaning in.”
New directives around scientific integrity and environmental justice have already been rolled out, while strengthened standards for vehicle pollution and methane leaks from oil and gas drilling are expected in summer.
Regan said he feels he also has a “clean slate” to write a new pollution rule that would curb emissions from coal-fired power plants, after the courts struck down a Trump EPA attempt to introduce a coal-friendly climate rule. All of this, and much more, will be crucial if the US, and the world, is to meet its climate targets. But now, with Trump gone, we now have a reasonable chance.