U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan remains on a mission for justice.
He believes President Biden’s historic bipartisan infrastructure bill provides an opportunity to finally rid America of poisonous lead pipes and free communities of color of the toxins that have polluted their neighborhoods for centuries.
“I’m the first Black man ever to lead this agency and the first to graduate from a historically Black college [North Carolina A&T] leading this agency,” Regan said during a recent visit to the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s headquarters at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Northwest.
“We are passionate about the environment and public health,” he said.
The bipartisan infrastructure law invests $3.5 billion in cleaning up superfund sites and addressing the nation’s legacy of pollution and delivers more than $50 billion to EPA to improve America’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.
It also provides $15 billion to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) for Lead Service Line Replacement, $4 billion to the Drinking Water SRF for Emerging Contaminants and $5 billion to Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Grants to address emerging contaminants.
“There are still 6 to 10 million lead services lines in cities and towns across the country, many in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods,” Regan said.
He recounted a visit to Lowndes County, Alabama, where he found homes in which people of color resided with malfunctioning septic systems that discharged untreated sewage into backyards where children played.
“This is unacceptable,” he said. “Safe drinking water, safe sewer systems – this is a basic right. These individuals deserve what every American deserves: clean water and a safe environment.”
On a visit to Wilkins Elementary School in Jackson, Mississippi, Regan described another difficult-to-stomach experience for young children of color. City officials declared a citywide mandate to boil water as Regan arrived because of the discovery of toxic chemicals.
“It looked like a worksite and many of the kids had already been sent home because they couldn’t prepare food because of the water,” Regan said. “This is on the heels of a pandemic. But the kids who remained behind were so excited because they got to see someone who looked like them in my position and someone who cared.”
Regan said in each location he visits, he invites the media to accurately report what’s going on in communities across the nation.
“The bipartisan infrastructure provides resources for our communities,” he said. “There are matching grants and forgivable loans, which means more of our communities have an opportunity to compete for these grants. We’re also making $50 million available for technical assistance to help our communities become more competitive. I’ve written a letter to every governor in the country outlining the criteria by which we believe those resources should be spent.”
Regan said he developed a passion for public service as a young person. His father graduated from North Carolina A&T and served in Vietnam, working as an agricultural extension agent and with the national guard. For 40 years, Regan’s mother worked as a nurse.
“I grew up with the desire to contribute to society because of what I saw in my home,” he said.
Regan said EPA continues to prioritize addressing climate change with the focus and resources the crisis demands.
“At EPA, we know both climate mitigation and adaptation are essential components of the strategy to reduce the threats and impact of climate change,” Regan said. “We will invest in programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including an additional $100 million for air quality grants to states and tribes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a local and regional scale.”
He further acknowledged that the communities hardest hit by pollution and climate change are most often communities of color, indigenous communities, rural communities and poor communities.
“For generations, many of these vulnerable communities have been overburdened with higher instances of polluted air, water, and land,” Regan said.
“This inequity of environmental protection is not just an environmental justice issue but also a civil rights concern. Neither an individual’s skin color nor the wealth of their zip code should determine whether they have clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, or healthy environments in which their children can play.”
“I am not afraid to enforce the laws on the books to make sure our children are breathing clean air,” he said.