The U.S. Senate has made history by confirming Michael Regan as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Biden. Not only is Regan the first African American man to lead the agency in its 50-year history, he also brings a distinct environmental justice focus to the role, in line with Biden’s commitment to centering justice and equity in his plans to tackle the climate crisis. At a moment when the window to meaningfully act on climate change is narrowing before our very eyes, and as low-income and communities of color continue to bear the brunt of environmental catastrophe in increasingly horrific ways, this is the vision and leadership we need to turn things around.
Our relationship to our environment underpins every other relationship we have: to ourselves, to God, to our neighbors, to the world. Climate justice is an integral part of social justice. In working together to fight climate change, we take responsibility both for our own contributions to climate change and for our brothers and sisters around the world. A strong EPA, led by a hand that can attend to the intersection of Earth stewardship and care for our neighbor, is the exact prescription that is needed.
We know that the impacts of climate change are not felt equally across communities. Environmental injustice plagues Arizona just as it does every state. In our urban areas, communities of color face disproportionate levels of air pollution, leading to higher rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses. The drought sweeping through the southwest has especially dire implications for small farmers and migrant workers. The push for fossil fuel development constantly brings our state’s Native lands under threat. Many of the communities impacted by these injustices are among our congregants, and will continue to suffer unless provided with resources to adapt.
As we feel the impacts of climate change across the breadth of our ministries, we need the EPA and other governmental agencies to help us address the root causes of climate change by embracing clean energy. The call for a just 100% clean energy economy and environmental protections is also a call to center the voices and needs of the most marginalized as we seek climate solutions together.
Michael Regan understands this dynamic well. He spent his career fighting for clean air and water on behalf of frontline communities, both nationally and in his home state of North Carolina. Regan’s leadership is the shift we need to return the EPA to doing its job — which is to protect air and water, the environment, and public health.
Regan will take a leading role in President Biden’s bold and unprecedented climate policy by reinstating and expanding pollution safeguards, jumpstarting our clean energy economy, and placing an emphasis on equity and environmental justice. A driven and fully-functioning EPA will be key to fulfilling the promises of President Biden’s early executive orders.
We applaud Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema for their role in ensuring the swift confirmation of Michael Regan to lead the EPA. However, the work is far from over. Congress must work to confirm Janet McCabe as deputy EPA Administrator so that Regan can get to work right away with a fully staffed EPA. They must also fulfill their obligations to protect our communities, the environment, and public health by taking bold actions to address climate change and working alongside a revitalized EPA to make true progress on the crisis.
Our notion of the common good calls us to be in solidarity with those impacted by climate change while avoiding the temptation to pass this problem along to future generations as a result of our own neglect or narrow interests. This is why as a nation we — including Members of Congress — must prioritize action on climate.
Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood is the Executive Director of the Arizona Faith Network. She has spent her career building impactful communities who work to transform our world for the common good. Follow AFN on Twitter at @AzFaithNetwork.