Faced with the greatest environmental crisis in modern history, our federal government just spent four years rolling back environmental protections, catering to fossil fuel interests, and abdicating our country’s duty to take on climate change.

But former President Trump’s failures aren’t the whole story: While the federal government was acting against the best interests of our communities and our climate, state and local leaders, like those here in North Carolina, stepped up to the plate to fill the leadership gap. With state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan poised to helm the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the country will learn from North Carolina’s success in standing up to corporate polluters and taking meaningful action in the fight against the climate crisis. 

President Joe Biden has seen the success of these efforts and is elevating state leaders to federal roles that will be key to realizing our clean energy future. Those leaders—including Regan—will help guide the U.S. through the great crises of our time.

Regan will join the most climate-focused Cabinet in history. Key staffing picks show that Biden is committed to embedding climate in every facet of his administration. He chose Brian Deese, who helped broker the Paris climate accords, as Director of the National Economic Council, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to overturn California’s fuel efficiency standards, to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

And that’s why President Biden chose proven leaders like Regan for more traditional climate-related roles, such as at the EPA. His administration is committed to building on the successes of state-level leaders who acted to uphold America’s climate promises in the absence of federal leadership. This is welcome news for those of us in the climate movement, and it confirms that the policies North Carolina championed will inspire federal policy.

Biden chose former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm—whose deep knowledge of the auto industry will be an asset as America transitions to clean transportation—to lead the Department of Energy. To help implement the most ambitious federal climate agenda in history across multiple departments, he nominated Ali Zaidi, a climate policy expert who led New York state’s climate action efforts.

In choosing Regan to helm the EPA, Biden is walking the walk—taking the first crucial steps to fulfill his campaign promises. As DEQ secretary, Michael Regan was at the forefront of negotiations with longtime polluter Duke Energy, leading the state to the multibillion-dollar settlement that requires Duke to clean up almost 80 million tons of toxic coal ash—a commitment that will benefit communities that have been on the frontlines of poisonous pollution for decades. A native of Goldsboro, Regan has drawn upon his own experiences growing up with the disproportionate effects of pollution and environmental injustice. As secretary, he spearheaded the establishment of North Carolina’s environmental justice advisory board, which champions clean air and water for all North Carolinians, regardless of zip code, race, age, gender, or income.

A former EPA staffer, Regan is well-acquainted with the agency’s workings. Now, he’ll be able to apply the lessons he learned on the ground in North Carolina to environmental quality issues facing communities all over the country. Regan will act to undo the Trump administration’s most harmful rollbacks, while setting the U.S. government on a course to meaningful regulatory action that prioritizes the populations most impacted by the climate crisis and pollution.

President Biden aptly named climate change one of the four great crises facing our country. Polling shows that voters stand with him and expect the president to tackle the climate crisis head-on.

For too long, federal officials have dragged their feet in the fight against climate change, leaving state and local leaders to fill the gaps. But by naming proven leaders like Michael Regan, Biden is showing us that his administration is ready to do the work. Our state has fought to hold big polluters accountable. We know that no matter where you are from, we all deserve clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. North Carolinians should feel proud we have one of our own—someone who has fought for our health and the environment—in the room. And it’s something the whole country should celebrate.

Carrie Clark is the executive director of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. 

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