A legislative committee on Thursday unanimously recommended the Senate approve a former federal regulator and professional advocate to run North Carolina’s environmental agency.
Michael Regan’s confirmation hearing marked the last for the eight Cabinet appointments Gov. Roy Cooper has made. He is expected to announce the final two appointments soon.
Although Regan’s appointment as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality could have been controversial, he appeared to have soothed Republican lawmakers’ concerns that he would lean too far toward environmental protection at the expense of considerations of the economy and over-regulation.
Still, several committee members grilled him on just that point, covering ground that included coal ash, the clashes between farmers and environmentalists and between commercial and recreational fishing, and President Donald Trump’s rescinding the EPA’s clean power plan to reduce carbon emissions.
Regan’s uniform answer to nearly every question was that he would make sure that all pertinent interests were represented, as a way to include different perspectives, explain policies and avoid ending up in litigation.
“A healthy environment and a thriving economy are not mutually exclusive,” Regan said.
Regan is a native of Goldsboro; his grandfather worked a small farm in Bladen County. He joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he served two years with the Clinton administration and nearly eight years under the Bush administration. In 2008, Regan left the federal government to work for the international advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, and later started his own consulting firm.
Regan told the committee one of his first priorities will be to review all of the state agency’s processes for issuing permits, which he said have been strained by budget cuts and the increasing demands of a growing economy. He noted Cooper’s proposed budget includes money to hire more permitting staff to trim a backlog that has left the typical waiting time for final approval of a permit at two to three years.
Regan’s nomination next goes to the Senate Select Committee on Nominations and then to the full Senate. Two other nominees – Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and Department of Administration Secretary Machelle Sanders – were approved in the Senate later Thursday.
Senate leader Phil Berger’s office released a statement after their confirmations praising Cohen’s “commitment to improving communication, transparency and accountability” and Sanders’ “goal to make the Department of Administration ‘the most efficient and effective’ state agency.”
“Leading departments that manage a roughly $20 billion budget for the delivery of health and human services and that oversee most day-to-day operations of state government are not easy tasks,” Berger said.
Cooper, a Democrat, sued to stop the new confirmation process created by the Republican-controlled legislature to give the Senate a say on the governor’s Cabinet, but a court ruling allowed the hearings to go forward.