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Senate panel advances EPA nominee; GOP slams Interior pick

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2021 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency nominee Michael Regan, speaks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – A Senate committee has endorsed President Joe Biden's nomination of Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, setting up a vote in the full Senate.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced Regan's nomination Tuesday on a 14-6 vote. Four Republicans, including new committee member Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, joined with all 10 Democrats to support Regan.

Regan, who has served as North Carolina's top environmental regulator since 2017, would be the first Black man to run the EPA. Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator in President Barack Obama's first term, was the first African American to lead the agency.

Regan is known in his home state for pursuing cleanups of industrial toxins and helping low-income and minority communities significantly affected by pollution.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the chairman of the environment panel, called Regan the right person to lead EPA, citing his “experience bringing people together to solve our most pressing environmental issues and make sure no community gets left behind in the process.''

Regan is the second Biden environment or energy nominee to win committee approval. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was endorsed as energy secretary last week.

A third Biden nominee, Deb Haaland, has not yet had a hearing on her selection to lead the Interior Department. Two Republican senators, Steve Daines of Montana and John Barrasso of Wyoming, have announced they will oppose Haaland, a New Mexico congresswoman. Both lawmakers cite concerns over Biden’s decision to impose a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands, and his rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.

Daines said in a statement he will seek to block Haaland's nomination on the Senate floor. “I’m deeply concerned with the congresswoman’s support on several radical issues that will hurt Montana, our way of life, our jobs and rural America, including her support for the Green New Deal and President Biden’s oil and gas moratorium, as well as her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline,'' Daines said.

He also was concerned by Haaland's responses on issues such as wildlife management and access by hunters and sportsmen to public lands, Daines said.

Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement that Haaland's “radical views are squarely at odds with the responsible management of our nation’s energy resources.''

Citing her opposition to oil and gas production on federal lands, Barrasso said Haaland “must demonstrate that she will follow the law, protect the multiple uses of our public lands and reject policies that will force energy workers into the unemployment line.''

Haaland, who was elected to her second term in November, is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe. Her selection has been hailed by Democrats, environmentalists and tribal groups as a historic pick that would make her the first Native American to lead the powerful federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for generations.

The Biden administration has put racial equity, climate change and health at the forefront of its agenda, and Haaland’s selection “fortifies this commitment,″ said Marissa Ramirez of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “She represents the promise of a new era for this country’s connection with its land, especially those often excluded.″

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who serves on the energy panel, said he is optimistic Haaland will reorient Interior toward “forward-thinking objectives” such as outdoor recreation, climate solutions, wildlife preservation, clean water and rural economic development.

"I am eager to support her confirmation so she can get to work protecting our natural heritage for future generations,'' Heinrich said.

A spokesman for the Interior Department said the “targeted pause” on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters does not affect existing operations or permits for existing leases, “which are continuing to be reviewed and approved.” The order does not restrict energy development on private, state or tribal lands.

A hearing on Haaland's nomination is expected later this month.