EPA Administrator Michael Regan has a team in place ready to deliver on the Biden administration’s goals this year.
One priority is implementing the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure law, which gives $60 billion to EPA alone. The agency has already announced plans to use those funds to replace lead pipes and clean up Superfund toxic waste sites. Money will also go to providing electric school buses and mitigating water contamination from "forever chemicals," also known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
On the regulatory front, EPA will be busy. It will be proposing and finalizing rules to protect air, water and climate this year — as well as defending them in court. Also part of this effort is rebuilding the agency, which involves retaining but also hiring new talent to boost its workforce.
Regan has already been on the road selling President Biden’s environmental agenda. He has sought to spotlight communities overburdened with pollution and will have new tools at his disposal to bring them government assistance, thanks to the infrastructure law.
At his ready are a group of senior political appointees who are leading the agency and turning its focus toward climate change and environmental justice. Many come from progressive policy and political circles, environmental groups and state government, with several having prior EPA experience.
Meet some of the top officials who help make up Regan’s team at the agency:
Vicki Arroyo, associate administrator for policy
Vicki Arroyo is leading EPA’s charge on drafting rules to guard human health and the environment.
As head of EPA’s policy shop, she has several roles at the agency, including overseeing "the meat and potatoes regulatory work," Arroyo told E&E News, but also coordinating reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and spearheading climate adaptation.
"It is a lot of different hats, so they are very cool because they speak to different aspects of my background," she said. "It feels the job fits me well."
EPA under the Biden administration has proposed or finalized more than 60 rules already. Arroyo said the agency’s policy office takes the best available science as well as input from the public and interested parties to help write those rules. The shop is also working on rebuilding climate change work at EPA and expanding it even more.
Arroyo, 58, has had prior stints at EPA as a career employee as well as at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. She also led the Georgetown Climate Center and worked at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
A New Orleans native, she has seen the effects of toxic chemicals and climate change with Hurricane Katrina sweeping through her home state. Arroyo said many places still need help dealing with pollution, citing Regan’s travel last year to Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas to champion environmental justice.
"As we saw on the ‘Journey to Justice’ tour, there is still much work that needs to be done on reducing those chemical exposures," she said.
Arroyo has a love of acting, having grown up in a community theater family. Her mother performed as Mother Goose on television and at children’s birthday parties.
"You can imagine a community theater family in New Orleans," Arroyo said. "It was magical in a lot of ways."
Married with a son, she also has three pets: a dog named Stella and two cats, Madeleine Albright and Tiny, a rescue kitten she adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"She’s not so tiny anymore, but that name stuck," Arroyo said.
Dorien Paul Blythers, deputy chief of staff for operations
Dorien Paul Blythers has a meaty answer for what he does at EPA.
"My primary role at the agency is developing strategies and plans on where the administrator is going, why the administrator is going there, who is he is engaging with, what he hopes to achieve and what outcomes he wants to see on the ground," Blythers told E&E News.
It’s all in support of Regan boosting the president’s agenda. Blythers is working to incorporate environmental justice in all of the EPA administrator’s events, including those with staff as well as travel throughout the United States and overseas, and highlight the work of the agency.
"Top of mind for me this year is how we continue to support and uplift our career employees who have been doing this work for so long," said Blythers, 32.
At Howard University, he helped lead student efforts to create a recycling program. He had plans to be a wildlife veterinarian, but politics captured his attention, leading him to volunteer on President Obama’s 2008 campaign and later work on his 2012 reelection race.
"I have worked on political and environmental issue campaigns ever since," Blythers said, including for End Citizens United and Climate Action Campaign.
Born in Atlanta, Blythers spent summers and holidays as a child on the family farm in Chulahoma, Miss., where his great-grandparents ran a sharecropping operation and were subsistence farmers.
"Chulahoma is a small town where everyone knows everyone," Blythers said. "It is the birthplace of my appreciation for community and the importance of having a strong community."
He grew up a tennis fan: "I’m Team Venus and Serena Williams." He also enjoys travel, fishing and horseback riding. Blythers makes sure to ride the family farm’s horse, named Black Mamba after the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant, when he is home.
"My twin brother is a big Kobe fan," he said.
Rosemary Enobakhare, associate administrator for public engagement and environmental education
Rosemary Enobakhare’s job at EPA is to keep the conversation flowing between the agency and the outside world.
She works to create what she calls "a two-way dialogue" between the agency and communities across the country. As head of EPA’s public engagement office, it’s up to her to maintain those close relationships.
"My job is to make sure those communities have a seat at the table," Enobakhare told E&E News. "We talk to moms. We talk to faith communities. We talk to civil rights groups. We talk to small businesses."
There is plenty work ahead this year at EPA, from protecting wetlands to promoting clean power. Also, environmental justice has come to the fore, with Enobakhare’s team leading coordination of Regan’s "Journey to Justice" tour across the South last year.
"Environmental justice has never been elevated to this level," she said.
Enobakhare, 35, is an EPA veteran, having served as deputy associate administrator in the public engagement office during the Obama administration. She has had several jobs in politics and environmentalism, including the Democratic National Committee, the Clean Water for All Campaign and the Hub Project.
"My whole goal is to make sure Black Americans across the country have a voice in Washington, D.C.," Enobakhare said. "That is the reason I came to D.C."
A Spelman College graduate, Enobakhare grew up in Jackson, Miss., where she said "hometown pride is the big thing." She is also the daughter of an immigrant, her father being Nigerian.
Enobakhare likes to volunteer, taking on environmental work such as helping to clean up the Anacostia River.
Lindsay Hamilton, associate administrator for public affairs
Lindsay Hamilton leads EPA’s public affairs office.
That office has a variety of tasks, focusing on web communications, multimedia work, media relations, internal communications and risk communications, according to Hamilton. It will be directed over the coming year to support fighting climate change, advancing environmental justice and highlighting the infrastructure law.
"We have a lot of different functions, but our work is all about communicating to people what EPA does," Hamilton told E&E News.
The Trump EPA had an aggressive approach with the media, issuing press releases critical of news organizations and specific reporters. The agency has taken a different tack during the Biden administration.
"It was important to reset our relationship with the media," Hamilton said. "I want to continue to improve on that in 2022."
She brings Capitol Hill experience to the job, having been a scheduler and personal assistant for former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and later communications director for former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). Hamilton, 39, also was campaign manager for Israel’s 2010 reelection bid in Long Island and recalls the campaign office as a former Hollywood Tans outlet.
"There were cardboard cutouts of tanned people still in the office," Hamilton said. "Just a couple, toward the entrance."
She has had other stops in her career, including at Climate Nexus, George Washington University and the Center for American Progress. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, she moved with her family to Omaha, Neb., when she was a child.
"One of my earliest jobs was selling Omaha Steaks over the phone," Hamilton said.
Married, she enjoys watching figure skating and has two pets, a betta fish named Starbuck and Darth Vader, an all-black cat adopted from a Washington, D.C., shelter.
"He lives up to the name," Hamilton said.
John Lucey, special assistant to the administrator
John Lucey is a top aide to Regan.
He sees himself as having "a strong coordinating role" between regional administrators and assistant administrators. One aspect of his job will to be ensure EPA’s funds from the infrastructure law get out the door and go to places where they are most needed.
That includes making sure Regan shows up to see those investments, "getting him back out there and these dollars in these communities as well," Lucey told E&E News.
Lucey has known Regan since the latter was secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Lucey was serving at the state agency, including as its chief strategy officer, where he worked on the Duke Energy Corp. coal ash settlement and the consent order for Chemours on GenX contamination.
"He has always been about family," Lucey said about Regan. "We had some long hallways down there that he and his son would race down during the holidays."
Lucey, 29, was born in Salem, Mass., but later moved with his family to Wake Forest, N.C. He misses eastern North Carolina barbecue.
"The smaller mom and pop shops can’t be beat," Lucey said.
With a bachelor’s degree in political science from North Carolina State University and an Associate of Arts degree from Central Piedmont Community College, Lucey is now going to law school part time at Catholic University.
His parents, who own a bookstore in Wake Forest, like to send him books, which he pores through when he gets a chance. Lucey also has a mutt named Josie, who just celebrated her 1-year birthday, that he adopted during the pandemic.
"I’m a walking stereotype. I got a Covid puppy," Lucey said.