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Biden Administration Adds Another Ocean Champion

EPA Administrator Regan has an opportunity to right the ship

Sun rising with a few birds searching for food.
Jacksonville, Florida © Hunter Propst

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a new leader, and that’s big news for our ocean. Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to confirm Michael Regan as EPA administrator.

Regan, hailing from North Carolina, served as the Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, whose mission is similar to that of the EPA. During his time as Secretary, Regan led the development and implementation of North Carolina’s plan to address climate change and transition to clean energy. Regan also established the state’s first Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory board to help achieve fair and equal treatment of North Carolinians, regardless of race or income, in the implementation of environmental law and policy.

From climate change to marine debris, the EPA is instrumental to the long-term health of our ocean. As the newly appointed administrator, Regan is faced with a laundry list of challenges left by the last administration, as well as a great opportunity for action. Here are four areas we could see Administrator Regan take action to benefit the health of our ocean and the health of our nation.

Environmental Justice

Tribal communities, Indigenous communities, minority-majority communities and low-income communities continue to experience disproportionate levels of pollution and environmental risk, and these inequities must be addressed. Listening to the needs of these communities and actively working with them to reduce their exposure to pollutants should be at the core of the EPA’s work. Achieving pollution reduction will benefit the health of our communities, and none more than environmental justice communities. The EPA has the tools and resources to achieve these reductions.

Climate Change

The EPA’s mission is to protect our human health and environment, putting the agency in a unique position to address the greatest threat to our ocean and communities: climate change. We’re already experiencing the impacts of climate change today, from warming oceans to sea-level rise to ocean acidification, and if we don’t take action today, the impacts will only get worse.

We cannot begin to mitigate the impacts of climate change without reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Luckily, the EPA plays a pivotal role in regulating the greenhouse gases that cause climate change via the Clean Air Act. Through the Clean Air Act, Administrator Regan can begin to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution responsible for ocean warming, sea-level rise and ocean acidification. Reduced emissions mean a healthier ocean and safer coastal communities.

Marine Debris/Plastic Pollution

The United States generates the most plastic waste of any country in the world. While we have just 4% of the world’s population, we create 17% of the world’s plastic waste. And this production of plastic waste has for too long outpaced our ability to manage it.

Leading the EPA, Administrator Regan will have the opportunity to address this devastating plastic waste trend. The agency oversees a number of federal laws that govern waste management, recycling and plastics production. This means the EPA must be at the forefront of developing, proposing and executing policies that will reduce the amount of plastics we produce and consume, and dramatically increase our ability to reuse and recycle plastics, closing the lifecycle loop and encouraging a more circular economy that produces less waste to manage.

Scientific Integrity & Agency Morale

The last four years saw an unprecedented effort to discredit scientists and the data and information they rely upon to assist in decision-making. We also experienced political pressures placed upon scientists, with political officials overruling scientists to weaken the health assessment of a toxic chemical found in drinking water. Administrator Regan will be charged with rebuilding the agency and restoring the public’s trust in one of our lead scientific agencies.

Though a daunting task, Administrator Regan is the right person to lead the agency and rebuild its reputation. By promoting science-based actions and improving scientific integrity, Administrator Regan will rebuild the foundation that made the EPA a leading and trusted source on keeping our communities and environment healthy.

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