Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator nominee Michael Regan faced questions about the agency’s independence within the Biden administration during his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“I am concerned about some of the appointments the president has made where they’re not in the purview of this committee or congressional oversight,” Republican West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said during her opening remarks. “That of course would be Gina McCarthy and John Kerry. They’ve already established themselves as unconfirmed and unaccountable czars.”
President Joe Biden appointed former EPA administrator McCarthy as his national climate advisor and former Secretary of State Kerry as his special president envoy for climate. Capito expressed concerns the two newly created positions — which require no Senate confirmation — could exert political influence over the EPA and undermine the agency’s independence.
Regan argued that the president’s new climate appointments reflected an “all hands on deck” approach to climate policy. He also told Capito that he had spoken to McCarthy about their respective roles in the administration.
“Did you get a sense in the conversation with her that you would be reporting directly to her or to the president, or a little bit of both?” Capito asked.
“I think it’s pretty clear that this position reports to the president,” Regan responded. “This position will be working with the staff in the White House and with all of the Cabinet agencies required for this whole of government approach.”
Republican Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan also expressed concerns about the Biden administration’s new climate appointees and their potential influence over the EPA during Wednesday’s confirmation hearing.
“I’m really concerned when you see John Kerry and Gina McCarthy, who are at the White House already setting policy,” Sullivan said during his opening remarks. “I think it should be you [in charge] since you are going to be Senate confirmed, if you’re confirmed, not to unconfirmed officials who are clearly taking the reins.”
Regan told the senator during a back-and-forth between the two that he would report only to the president if confirmed. He also pledged to take sole accountability for the agency’s actions if confirmed.
“If you’re confirmed, who’s going to be in charge below President Biden?” Sullivan asked.
“Where the decisions are in the EPA’s purview, I can assure you that I will be leading and making those decisions, and I will be accepting the accountability for those decisions,” Regan responded.
Biden has faced criticism from Republicans after issuing a flurry of climate-related executive orders during his first two weeks in office. The president ended a crucial permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and temporarily suspended fossil fuel leasing permits on federal lands.
Steve Milloy, a former transition team member for the Trump administration’s EPA, warned that Biden’s climate agenda could be jammed through with further executive action.