Michael Regan is a step closer to being confirmed as the next EPA administrator.
This morning, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved Regan's nomination on a 14-6 vote. All Democrats on the committee voted in support of the nominee, as did four Republicans — Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said Regan, who is secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, is the right person to lead EPA at this time.
"I believe that Michael Regan is someone who can help unite us in common purpose. That's what he did in North Carolina," Carper said at today's markup.
Republican senators, even those who voted against his nomination, had kind words for Regan. Those lawmakers said they disagreed with the Biden administration's agenda for EPA on climate change and regulations.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the panel's ranking member, said Regan has been "very open and forthright" with senators.
"As an individual, he is absolutely the type of person I would like to see leading a federal agency," Capito said. Yet the West Virginia senator, who tangled with the Obama administration over regulation of power plant carbon emissions, said she would vote "no" on his nomination.
"It is unclear whether Secretary Regan, if confirmed, would have any authority or have the authority to stop the regulatory march towards the Green New Deal," Capito said. "We cannot return to a third term of the Obama administration policies at the EPA that will lead to job loss, economic harm and more permanent scarring."
Sen. Jim Inhofe had similar sentiments. The Oklahoma Republican also voted "no" on Regan's nomination.
"I think the world of Michael Regan," Inhofe said. "The problem I have is the agenda that he'll be following — and I know that he will be doing this — is contrary to things that we believe in Oklahoma."
Other GOP senators on the committee said they were still reserving judgment on whether to support Regan's confirmation on the Senate floor.
"I voted to advance Mr. Regan's nomination today in order to allow the full Senate to have a say on his nomination," Cramer said in a tweet after the panel's vote. "I'll reserve my decision on whether to vote to confirm him until that vote is set."
It's not clear when the full Senate may vote on Regan. The Senate trial for former President Trump's second impeachment is kicking into gear and will take up floor time until it's completed.
Environmental organizations are backing Regan for EPA administrator. The League of Conservation Voters sent a letter yesterday to senators urging them to support Regan and saying the green group is considering including votes on his nomination on its 2021 legislative scorecard.
Questions for the record
As part of his confirmation process, Regan has responded to 271 questions for the record from senators after last week's hearing.
Carper asked Regan about clean car standards, the Kigali Amendment to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, methane emissions and PFAS, as well as the use of science at EPA.
Regan didn't shed much light on his plans, saying he would consult with agency staff, though he did mention working to set "ambitious light duty standards" and say he would seek more resources for environmental justice.
The Trump EPA often targeted California, including its Clean Air Act waiver that allowed the state to set tougher emission standards for cars.
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) asked Regan whether he would partner with the state to reduce those emissions in his questions for the record.
"If confirmed, I will work with California, the states, labor, and other stakeholders to achieve the President's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles," Regan said in his written response.
'An absent EPA'
Republicans will not be the only lawmakers watching Regan on how he handles regulations if confirmed as EPA administrator.
Shortly after this morning's vote, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), one of the committee's new members who backed Regan's nomination, said EPA too often takes a "one size fits all" approach that doesn't work for Arizona, both on water and air policies.
"From defining dry washes and riverbeds as navigable waters to attempting to regulate naturally occurring dust storms as particulate pollution, Arizonans understand the effects of a poorly targeted environmental regulation," he said.
"Yet the past few years have demonstrated an absent EPA can create just as much confusion and place vulnerable communities at risk."
Kelly said he's eager to work with Regan to clean up more than 500 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation land and boost water infrastructure in border communities.
Climate 'shared goals'
Also after the panel's vote, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said he hadn't planned to speak but that he took exception to comments from Capito. He noted that Congress has blocked meaningful action on fighting climate change, which has hurt his state.
"I just want to emphasize that if you're talking about permanent scarring, what we're doing to this planet with carbon emissions portends permanent scarring of our oceans, permanent scarring of the fisheries that Rhode Islanders depend on, permanent scarring of our very coastline," Whitehouse said.
"We're looking at having to redraw the map of Rhode Island because we are blocked in Congress from handling this problem," he said.
Capito responded that Republicans aren't in denial about climate change, noting that states they represent, like Alaska, have also been hit by climate change. She offered to make a deal with Whitehouse.
"If I erase one painful comment from the Obama administration, you can erase one painful comment from the Trump administration," Capito said. "We'll be at least a little more united in what I think we do have shared goals."
Reporters Timothy Cama and Hannah Northey contributed.