Administrator Michael Regan, Remarks For Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) Spring 2022 Meeting, As Prepared for Delivery
April 4, 2022
Thank you, Secretary Biser, for the introduction and for your outstanding leadership. I’m excited to be here and appreciate the invitation.
When I last spoke to you all back in July, we were just getting the ball rolling on our agenda… taking steps to rebuild the agency, return EPA to its core mission, earn the public’s trust, and deliver on President Biden’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis with everything we’ve got.
We’re still working on all the above… but I’m very proud of the foundation we laid last year, and much of what we’ve achieved already is due to the strength of our partnerships.
I believe that our success in confronting the biggest environmental challenges of our time will be determined by the strength of the partnerships EPA is working hard to build. That’s why over the last year, I’ve made it a priority to get out of Washington, D.C. as much as possible, so that I can meet with people who have a real stake in the decisions EPA makes – communities on the frontlines of pollution, industry leaders, workers who will help accelerate the transition to a clean economy, and certainly, state secretaries and commissioners like you.
As the former environmental regulator for the great state of North Carolina, I’ve been in your shoes. I know firsthand the challenges you all face, and I also know that a healthy state-federal relationship is vital to our shared success.
We are co-regulators. I believe strongly that we need an open, cooperative, and collaborative partnership to do the best job for our communities. At the end of the day, we share the same responsibility to carry out federal environmental and civil rights law at our respective levels.
Now, I recognize that doesn’t mean we will always agree on every topic. Certainly, we will have disagreements from time to time on policy matters, regulatory decisions, on strategic objectives, on resource allocations.
But it’s our Administration’s perspective, and my personal perspective, that we should always strive for partnership in developing and deploying solutions. Whenever and wherever possible, EPA will seek to carry out our mission for these communities in partnership with YOU as our co-regulators.
Like you, we believe environmental outcomes are best achieved when they can be done jointly between EPA and the states – because joint solutions are often stronger and more durable, providing communities with longer-lasting protections from pollution.
I believe the public is best served when we can leverage each other’s expertise, legal authorities, and financial resources. We each have different and complementary tools in our toolbox to bring to bear, and when we align those capabilities, the possibilities to do good are endless.
Since I’ve been Administrator:
- We’ve partnered with New Mexico to advance innovative solutions to address PFAS under hazardous waste law.
- We’ve begun working with states like Michigan, New York, and Illinois to prevent coal ash contamination in ground water.
- We’ve taken steps to restore states’ authority to protect your communities under the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which was eroded under the prior Administration.
So, we’re moving in the right direction… but the truth is, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. We have a long way to go to truly Build a Better America. We need to keep the pedal to the metal.
When I stepped into this role just over a year ago, I directed my team to go further and faster than ever before to tackle the climate crisis. In the time since, EPA has hit the ground running, leaving no stone unturned.
We issued a final rule to cap and phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons in the United States.
We proposed a new rule to sharply reduce methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry – including, for the first time, reductions from existing sources nationwide.
We also issued ambitious federal greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks and recently restored California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to implement its own greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks. With this authority restored, EPA is once again empowering states to advance the next generation of clean vehicle technologies.
And a couple of weeks ago, we rolled out our approach to the power sector.
The power sector is vital to America’s economic growth and competitiveness. We all depend on a resilient power sector for affordable and reliable electricity.
I recognize that we are at a critical moment – with our economy on the rebound from the pandemic, an unjust war abroad that jeopardizes our energy prices here at home, and the opportunity to define the energy future on the world stage.
Let me be clear that this Administration is committed to ensuring U.S. energy security, creating good-paying jobs, and protecting people from pollution.
Our approach to the power sector is guided by the understanding that fossil fueled power plants are among the largest emitters of many harmful pollutants that jeopardize our health. They’re also especially harmful to the communities of color and low-income communities that tend to live closest to power plants.
Our nation’s clean air and environmental laws, and our responsibility to the American people, require EPA to address these impacts… and to do so in a way that allows our economy to flourish.
At the same time, we’re living through a period of unprecedented change in the sector. Renewable energy is the fastest growing source of electricity, and new solar and wind have dominated the new power plant construction queue recently. Many states have also demonstrated tremendous leadership in accelerating the transition. We want to seize the momentum and use all our tools to usher in a clean energy future.
So, we’re approaching power plants by looking at the full suite of opportunities to marry a range of EPA authorities.
We aren’t overly relying on any one policy or rulemaking to achieve our mission of protecting public health. We believe that an integrated and coordinated approach allows us to tackle the full array of threats that power plants pose to clean air, safe water, and healthy land, and at the same time, provides the regulatory certainty needed for industry and states to offer affordable and reliable energy.
This is an area where EPA and the states need to be in close partnership.
As we’ve considered our approach to the power sector, EPA has already benefited from discussions with ECOS and its members, and we deeply appreciate your input and continued engagement.
We also appreciate the leadership of many states in this room that have helped drive our power sector towards a zero-emission future. At EPA, we want to ensure that we do everything we can to embrace and augment the efforts of state leaders.
Many states have moved to decarbonize their power sectors by midcentury, and many of these states have been leading for years – California, New York, and Washington to name a few – but they have not slept on their laurels. We’ve also noticed their ranks are expanding as the appeal of a clean energy future resonates across all geographic and political lines.
I can think of no better example than Governor Cooper’s leadership in my home state of North Carolina, where we are today. Just last year, he negotiated a bill to achieve a 70% reduction in carbon emissions from state power plants by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
So, as we look to partner with exemplary state leaders across the country, I’ll note that the power sector is an area where the state-federal partnership can flourish – with the EPA providing federal standards under authorities like the Clean Air Act and the states executing plans to meet those standards in ways that fit their particular circumstances.
For example, we are currently evaluating our obligation to create standards of performance for greenhouse gases from existing power plants. As we look to create strong, durable standards, we’ll be maintaining an open dialogue to ensure that you’re set up for success when the time comes to develop an achievable state plan.
But our objective is to work as partners even when our statutes don’t specifically call for it.
I appreciate that the power sector is an area in which the states have long held a significant role in economic regulation, ensuring that power is reliable and affordable as well as clean.
We will be looking to gain the states’ insights on the execution of all our rules affecting the power sector, even when the statutes require a federal approach. So, as we look at our regulations for new turbines or our efforts to clean up the water and land around coal units, we want to partner with states to ensure we consider their interests in protecting their communities and ensuring clean, affordable, and reliable power in the process.
And given the leadership of the states in this effort, it would be shortsighted to limit our collaboration just to where our regulatory authority is deployed. Instead, the agency has a raft of programs and tools that are available to the states as they continue to lead.
There are too many to list here, but generally we want to support states with three types of tools.
- We can help you assess the problem, such as through our recently released state-level inventories of greenhouse gas emissions and sinks, as well as help states develop your own inventories by reducing the time for data collection.
- We can help you understand the impacts of power plant pollution, with tools like EGRID, a database of the environmental characteristics of electric power generation, and our “Power Plant and Neighboring Communities” interactive tool that lets us better understand the disproportionate impacts of air pollution in overburdened communities.
- And we can help you with the resources and training you need to execute your own programs, through partnership efforts such as ENERGY STAR and our climate partnership program, as well as other technical assistance, trainings, and support.
Another area that requires our close collaboration is water infrastructure. As state leaders, you are on the front lines of the water crisis in America. You are managing aging infrastructure, the disastrous legacy of lead pipes, emerging cyber security threats, and the pressures exerted by climate change.
President Biden knows that water infrastructure is not an issue that state and local leaders can or should have to manage on their own. That’s why he’s made transforming America’s crumbling water infrastructure a cornerstone of this Administration’s agenda – and EPA is at the center of delivering on that mission.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides the single-largest federal investment in our water infrastructure in history – $50 billion to replace lead pipes, tackle emerging contaminants like PFAS, and build drinking water and wastewater systems that are resilient to the climate crisis.
This year alone, EPA is providing $7.4 billion of infrastructure law funding to State Revolving Funds, with a lot more to come over the next five years.
We recently shared an implementation memo for state, local, and Tribal partners to help guide collaborative implementation of the SRF. I know later today, you’ll be hearing from EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water, Radhika Fox, who will provide a more in-depth overview of this guidance. But I want to underscore what an enormous opportunity we have in front of us.
For more than 30 years, the SRFs have been the foundation of water infrastructure investments, providing low-cost financing for local projects across the country. But we know that many vulnerable communities have not received their fair share of federal water infrastructure funding.
Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states have a unique opportunity to correct this disparity and remove barriers that prevent underserved communities from benefitting equitably.
EPA’s implementation memo clarifies the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s directive to ensure these funds meet the needs of all our communities – especially communities that experience our biggest water challenges like lead in drinking water or inadequate wastewater service.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law targets another longstanding, pervasive issue – legacy pollution and contaminated land that is all too often located in communities of color.
The law invests a historic $3.5 billion in the Superfund Remedial Program to supercharge EPA’s ability to address legacy pollution in communities across the country. With this funding, communities living near many of the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination will finally get the protections they deserve.
With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have a once in a generation opportunity to confront longstanding inequities and to Build a Better America – one that is healthier, more inclusive, and protective of all people, especially our children.
That is our number one objective. As we take steps to fulfill our responsibility, I want to be clear that we will never lose sight of our commitment to protecting overburdened and underserved communities.
The work to correct longstanding injustices won’t be easy. There are no simple fixes, and the EPA cannot solve these challenges alone. Advancing environmental justice requires thoughtful and transparent collaboration across all levels of government.
We want to deepen our partnership with state environmental agencies on justice and equity. By working together, we can address the systemic factors that drive disproportionate burdens, strengthen the science and practice of cumulative impact analysis, and better leverage our existing rules and policies.
I know states are looking for additional guidance from the agency to do this work. We’ve heard you, and we agree that greater clarity is important. So, let me speak to that.
In the coming weeks, EPA will be releasing EJ Legal Tools to Advance Environmental and Equity, which identifies a wide range of statutory and regulatory authorities that can be deployed to ensure the nation’s environmental and civil rights laws protect the health and environment of all communities.
It’s intended to help EPA decisionmakers and our partners understand their authorities to consider historic and existing inequities, effectively protect public health, and ensure meaningful community engagement. We are working to finalize the document now and are excited to share EJ Legal Tools with our state and Tribal partners.
This is one of several pieces of guidance we’re working on. We will also be finalizing a frequently-asked-questions document on environmental justice and civil rights in permitting.
Even as we continue to advance additional tools, we will keep working to identify and share existing information that can be used immediately to address disproportionate and cumulative impacts.
And we also recognize that many states aren’t waiting to act – states like New Jersey, which enacted a nation-leading law under Governor Murphy to protect overburdened communities from seeing even more dangerous pollution put in their backyards. I believe that EPA and states can learn from one another as we embark on this challenging but critically important work together.
We will continue to look at all our work through an environmental justice lens – from tackling climate change, to safeguarding our drinking water, to cleaning up contaminated sites. And we will not hesitate to use our authority to hold polluters accountable when necessary.
For this EPA, environmental justice is not an add on or an afterthought – it is a central driving factor in all that we do. And I’m committed to working closely with all of you and solving these longstanding challenges together.
When I came into this job, I said that engagement would be key. Equally important to the work happening inside the agency is the work happening on the outside – efforts to strengthen our partnership with leaders on the Hill, community groups who are doing the work on the ground, and state executives like you.
The truth is, we still have a lot of work to do, and we can’t do it alone. We need you. We need your innovation, your understanding of your communities, and your leadership. And we’ll continue to take deliberate, concerted steps to bolster our longstanding collaboration with the states, strive for partnership wherever possible, and honor our co-regulator relationship.
Thanks again for having me.