(CNN) — The derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, has brought fresh attention to the US Environmental Protection Agency and its leader, Michael Regan.
Regan has traveled back and forth to East Palestine in recent weeks, meeting with residents and local and state officials, as federal efforts ramp up to address the wreck that unleashed plumes of black smoke and contaminated the soil at the crash site and some waterways.
On Tuesday, Regan visited an East Palestine home and drank tap water with Gov. Mike DeWine — trying to reinforce earlier assurances that the municipal water supply is safe. Shortly after, the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern, the company who operated the train carrying hazardous materials, to handle and pay for all necessary cleanup.
“The Norfolk Southern train derailment has upended the lives of East Palestine families, and EPA’s order will ensure the company is held accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of this community,” Regan said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Senate confirmed Regan as EPA administrator with a bipartisan vote in March 2021, making him the first Black man to lead the agency in its 50-year history. His historic confirmation followed that of Lisa Jackson, who during the Obama administration became the first African American to head the agency.
A Goldsboro, North Carolina, native and graduate of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Regan holds an undergraduate degree in environmental science and a master’s degree in public administration from The George Washington University, according to his EPA biography.
He met his wife, Melvina, at A&T, according to a university news release, and the couple shares one son, Matthew.
Regan has said attending the historically Black college in his undergraduate years prepared him for his administrator role. “It strengthened my understanding of who I am and what I can do for society,” he said in the release.
After college, Regan began a post-graduate internship at the EPA where he established his career for a decade serving during the Bush and Clinton administrations, eventually becoming a national program manager. According to the EPA, he worked in that capacity on designing pathways to “reduce air pollution, improve energy efficiency and address climate change.”
He reflected on his career during his Senate confirmation hearing.
“I knew I wanted to find a way to serve, and that led to my first summer internship at EPA. I spent nearly ten years at EPA under presidents of both parties,” Regan told the Senate panel, adding: “It’s an honor of a lifetime to be invited back.”
Regan has been one of the climate-focused members of President Joe Biden’s administration, playing a central part in the president’s efforts to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and investments in clean energy projects.
Under his leadership, the EPA in September created the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, a new national office.
Regan previously served as the secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality after being tapped for the position by North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in 2017.
He also served as the associate vice president of US Climate and Energy and Southeast regional director at the Environmental Defense Fund, according to the EPA.