EPA chief says filling vacant top agency job in Chicago on ‘expedited timeline’

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said he talked with the two top contenders on Tuesday and Wednesday — Debra Shore, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, and Micah Ragland, a utility company executive in Michigan.

SHARE EPA chief says filling vacant top agency job in Chicago on ‘expedited timeline’
Press Secretary Psaki Holds Daily Briefing With EPA Administrator Regan

Environmental Protection Administrator Michael Regan and White House press secretary Jen Psaki speak during the daily press briefing June 30, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

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WASHINGTON — EPA Administrator Michael Regan, asked about filling the agency’s vacant top Chicago-based regional spot, on Wednesday said, “We’re pushing as fast as we can” to fill the job, adding that he interviewed the two leading contenders to run the office earlier in the day and Tuesday.

Questioned by the Chicago Sun-Times about a timetable for filling the Region 5 office — overseeing environmental issues in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin — Regan said,  “We’re on an expedited timeline. ... I spent time with two top candidates this morning and yesterday, and we’re going to push those forward ASAP.”

Regan declined to name the two people he interviewed.

The Sun-Times earlier identified the two front runners as Debra Shore, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, who is endorsed by most of the Illinois Democrats in Congress, and Micah Ragland, a utility company executive in Michigan, who helped lead the Obama administration’s response to the Flint drinking water crisis when he worked for the EPA. Ragland, a native of Flint, who has the backing of many Democratic Michigan lawmakers, would be the first Black Chicago-based regional administrator for the agency.

Ragland told the Sun-Times he talked with Regan in a video call Wednesday; Shore confirmed she interviewed with Regan on a video call Tuesday.

Asked how fast is ASAP, Regan said, “I don’t have a specific timeline in terms of how we navigate the personnel process, but we’re pushing as fast as we can.”

“Listen, we recognize that we need our regional administrators in place, if we’re going to be successful, to expedite and execute on the president’s very ambitious agenda on climate, on water quality, environmental justice and the like. So this is a top priority for us.”

Regan was at the White House briefing to tout President Joe Biden’s pending bipartisan infrastructure deal, highlighting that, if it passes — and the fate of the legislation is far from certain — the funding could be provided to help replace 400,000 lead service lines in Chicago.

Backers of Shore and Ragland have been lobbying the Biden White House. 

In a letter in May, more than 50 Midwest EPA workers of color encouraged Regan to hire Ragland, who also is backed by the union representing agency scientists, engineers, lawyers and other employees. The workers said Ragland is the best candidate to address a host of environmental justice issues in the region. 

Regan stepped into a high-profile environmental justice fight in Chicago in May when he asked Mayor Lori Lightfoot to conduct air pollution studies on the Southeast Side before deciding the fate of a permit for a controversial car-shredding operation that is opposed by residents. 

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