RALEIGH — Michael Regan, a longtime air quality specialist with the Environmental Protection Agency and most recently a senior southeastern director for the Environmental Defense Fund, has been chosen to lead the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
In an early afternoon announcement at the Executive Mansion on Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he picked Regan because of his strong credentials in environmental issues and reputation as an effective leader.
“Michael has demonstrated skills at bringing stakeholders together to create and enforce sound environmental policies,” Cooper said.
Regan, a native of Goldsboro, served as an Environmental Defense Fund vice president and the regional director of the organization’s Southeastern Climate and Energy program from 2008 until last fall, when he opened a policy consulting business.
Regan previously spent 10 years at the EPA as an air quality specialist and manager of planner and standards.
Regan, who starts work at the department next week, said he would begin by meeting with veteran members of DEQ staff to gather feedback. “There’s lots of expertise there, lots of passion,” Regan said. Increasing transparency is also on the agenda, he added.
“I also really want to begin to develop transparency and work with all of our stakeholders so they are operating with pretty much similar information,” Regan said.
Regan said he would also reach out to other leaders in the state to find areas of consensus.
That outreach is likely to start very quickly since under legislation passed in a special session late last month, cabinet appointees now must be approved by the state Senate.
The law, part of a group of changes that dialed back some of the authority of the office of governor and shifted powers and responsibilities around in other state agencies, is being challenged in court on constitutional grounds.
Asked whether the legislature would be willing to approve an appointee with ties to a well-known environmental group, Cooper said his decision was based on finding the best person for the job.
“I think it’s important for the governor to appoint the very best people to serve in each of these positions,” Cooper said. “You need people who also can bring people together.”
Although Regan and former DEQ secretary Donald van der Vaart share backgrounds in science, air quality and energy policy, the policies of the incoming secretary represent a change in direction.
While Regan gets up to speed, former Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary William Ross has been appointed to manage the department.
Van der Vaart demoted himself back to his old position in DEQ’s Division of Air Quality as the administration of Pat McCrory drew to a close last week.
In another cabinet announcement Tuesday, Cooper also brought back Department of Transportation veteran engineer and former chief operating officer Jim Trogdon to head DOT.
The governor, who took the oath of office shortly after midnight on Jan. 1, expects to name most of his cabinet this week, prior to inauguration ceremonies on Saturday.