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EPA employees urge agency to appoint first Black chief in Chicago

Micah Ragland, who helped lead the Flint response under Obama, should get the nod, more than 50 workers of color say.

If appointed, Micah Ragland, an ex-Obama Administration official, would be the first Black Chicago-based regional administrator for EPA.

Dozens of Environmental Protection Agency workers of color from the Midwest are urging the agency’s leader to hire a former Obama Administration official to lead the Chicago office.

In a letter to President Joe Biden’s EPA administrator, 51 scientists, engineers and other employees from the agency’s Region 5 endorsed Micah Ragland, who helped lead the government’s response to the Flint drinking water crisis. Ragland, a native of Flint, would be the first Black Chicago-based regional administrator for the agency.

“We hope you will seize the opportunity to appoint a highly qualified Black candidate to this critical role over any candidates who do not have direct EPA experience and who do not reflect the racial diversity of the communities we serve,” the workers said in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

Ragland is one of two leading candidates for the job with Debra Shore, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, who is endorsed by most of the Illinois Democrats in Congress. Ragland is endorsed by Congressional members in Michigan and other states. EPA Region 5 oversees Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Regan, who recently urged Mayor Lori Lightfoot to halt a permit for General Iron’s relocation, is making environmental justice a top priority. Ragland’s background makes him a good fit for the Chicago job, one letter signee said in an interview.

“Micah Ragland knows communities of color,” said Jeffrey Trevino, an EPA lawyer. “That’s the person we need to lead the region.”

The union representing Region 5 EPA employees has endorsed Ragland but the group signing the Thursday letter were a mix of union and non-union employees, Trevino said.

In an interview, Ragland said, if appointed, he would order more inspections of polluters, emphasize hazardous waste site cleanups in low-income communities and set up an environmental justice council that include people outside the agency.

In an interview, Shore said she, too, would focus on environmental justice “implementing the administration’s priorities” and noted that she has endorsements from some former EPA officials.

An EPA spokesman declined to comment.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

Debra Shore
Rich Hein/Sun-Times