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Biden selects Deb Haaland as interior secretary, Michael Regan as EPA chief

If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.
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Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., in a TV interview outside the Capitol on April 23.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

President-elect Joe Biden intends to nominate Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to be his interior secretary, and Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, sources familiar with the decisions told NBC News.

If confirmed, Haaland, 60, would become the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. The pick is being cheered by progressives and would add to what Biden calls his “barrier-breaking” Cabinet.

Regan, 44, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first Black man to head the EPA. He would be just the second Black EPA chief in history, following Lisa Jackson, who held the job during President Barack Obama’s first term in office.

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, has represented New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which comprises Albuquerque and many of its suburbs, since 2019. She is the chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. She and Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas are the first Native American women to serve in Congress.

As interior secretary, Haaland would oversee an agency tasked with managing and conserving much of the country’s federal lands and natural resources, including national parks and tribal lands, which have had a fraught history with the federal government.

Haaland has long been popular among progressive Democrats. In 2016, when she was the chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party, she traveled to the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota to show solidarity with the demonstrators. She also led an effort as her state's party chair to divest the party from investments in Wells Fargo, over the bank's ties to the pipeline.

Long thought to be a top contender for the post, Haaland received sterling praise as a potential Cabinet member earlier this week from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who lauded the congresswoman as an “excellent choice” who “knows the territory” after rumors emerged that Democratic House leaders were concerned about losing a member of their caucus because of the thin majority they hold in the chamber. Haaland had received the strong backing of many Native American groups and progressive organizations, and many lauded her expected selection Thursday.

"With the historic appointment of Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary, Joe Biden chose the most qualified person and put a true movement progressive in his Cabinet," Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said. "Deb's selection was a top priority for the progressive movement. Thousands of PCCC members and many Native American, climate, women, and other progressive activists worked hard for this victory."

If Haaland is confirmed, it would create a third House vacancy as Democrats will begin the new Congress with an already-slimmed majority.

Regan is currently the head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. He previously worked for the EPA during the Bill Clinton and the George W. Bush administrations. Before leaving the agency, he served as a national program manager responsible for designing programs aimed at reducing pollution and improving energy efficiency and air quality.

As the administrator of the EPA, Regan would be charged with a leading role in overseeing Biden’s ambitious proposals to combat climate change, invest in green energy and infrastructure and take on environmental injustice.

Biden’s other choices in top climate leadership roles so far include Gina McCarthy, whom the president-elect is expected to name as his domestic climate coordinator, and John Kerry, whom the president-elect has tapped as his climate czar. Biden is also naming Ali Zaidi, an aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as his deputy White House climate coordinator.

Environmental groups were quick to praise the expected selection of Regan.

“We are confident Michael Regan will rebuild the EPA, restore the central role of science, and advance health protections for people and the air, water and land upon which we depend to thrive,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, an official with the League of Conservation Voters, said.

“We support Biden’s choice of Regan, an experienced and dedicated environmental leader, as EPA administrator. Biden’s collaboration with Regan will be key to fulfilling the administration’s mandate to face the accelerating climate crisis at scale, starting first with the reversal of the Trump administration’s harmful rollbacks,” the climate group's associate director of policy, Natalie Mebane, said.