Legislating Environmental Justice with EPA's Michael Regan | Crooked Media
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November 19, 2021
What A Day
Legislating Environmental Justice with EPA's Michael Regan

In This Episode

  • House Democrats are on the verge of passing President Biden’s Build Back Better bill, and once they do, it will head to the Senate. The $1.9 trillion social spending bill is a key part of Biden’s agenda.
  • Both that legislation and the recently passed infrastructure bill have provisions to address climate change. And all this week, EPA administrator Michael Regan has been touring the country to get a first-hand look at polluted communities fighting for environmental justice. Regan joins us to discuss how those bills could lead to better investments in these communities, climate change, and more.
  • And in headlines: Julius Jones’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison, more than 400 Iraqis flew home after weeks of life-threatening conditions at the Belarus-Poland border, and two Iranian nationals were indicted for interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.





Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, November 19th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I am Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we’re angling for an exclusive story where Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson say they are in love.


Gideon Resnick: No idea where to start. It’s really not our expertize area at all.


Priyanka Aribindi: We can dream, but that is pretty much all we can do for now.


Gideon Resnick: Dream and pray, as we have been. On today’s show, Oklahoma’s governor pardoned Julius Jones just hours before he was set to be executed. Plus, hundreds of migrants that were stuck at the border between Belarus and Poland have been flown back home to Iraq.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, as of when we went to record on Thursday night, House Democrats were getting ready to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better bill. The $1.9 trillion social spending bill is a key part of Biden’s agenda. It expands social services, helps families and children, expands health care access, and provides funding to fight the climate crisis—all of which happened to be huge democratic priorities.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, OK, so let’s set the table again. Remind us what the hold ups were going into this.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, so Democrats have been waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the cost before casting their votes. The CBO estimated that it would increase the deficit by $367 billion over the next decade. But if you factor in the amount that could be brought in if the IRS would collect from tax cheats, which this bill does have provisions for, that number shrinks down to 160 billion.


Gideon Resnick: Very nifty. OK, so then what’s going to happen next in this whole process? Remind us.


Priyanka Aribindi: So the bill is expected to pass the House, but that is not the hard part. From there, it will head to the Senate, where it is still uncertain whether or not Democratic Senator Joe Manchin will support it. He has had a number of concerns about this bill, including the cost, and that CBO score that we were all waiting for up until yesterday. If he is still not on board, the bill will likely be edited even further to gain his approval. As always, when it comes to him, the rest of Congress, etc., we will keep you updated as we learn more, but that is all we know at the moment.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, closer. Not there yet. Related to this bill and the recently passed infrastructure bill is environmental justice, and how the government can effectively invest in everyone, regardless of race income and more so they can live in communities that are free of pollution. And Priyanka, all of this week, EPA Administrator Michael Regan has been touring the country to get a firsthand look at all of this.


[clip of Michael Regan] If there is a question that environmental justice is real in this country, anyone that has that question should be on a tour like this. It is very real. It is very heart-wrenching.


Priyanka Aribindi: You got a chance to catch up with him between stops on his tour. What did you guys talk about? Tell me everything.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so when we were talking on Wednesday, he had already been to Jackson, Mississippi. And coincidentally while he was there, officials issued a boil notice as a result of the city’s unreliable water system, which is—


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh wow.


Gideon Resnick: —crazy in terms of the timing. Regan was also in St. John’s and St. James Parish in Louisiana


[clip of Michael Regan] Saw a number of people who have a long list of medical issues. Multiple generations of family members of the same household suffering from cancer. Grain elevators, refineries, petrochemical facilities, rail yards—all surrounding one community.


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. So those are just some of the audio diary entries that he sent in to us from while he’s been on the road. What else was he able to tell you?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so we talked about how these bills that we’ve been talking about could lead to better investments in these communities that he visited, climate change, and a lot more. But I caught up with Regan at his stop in New Orleans, and I started out by asking what he’s actually seen firsthand on this tour so far and what it’s told him about where our country is at the moment:


Michael Regan: It’s been eye-opening the past few days. In Jackson, Mississippi, I was supposed to visit with students at an elementary school to talk about environmental education, but the school was evacuated because of no water pressure in the school. You know, in St. James and St. John’s Parish, the horrific stories about cancer and respiratory illness. We all know that these challenges exist, but to see them firsthand and to talk to people, what an experience.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and what has surprised you most over the course of this? Is this really relatively unexpected, is sort of the depth and breadth of it unexpected?


Michael Regan: You know, the intensity of the industry and the cumulative impact of the pollution—air and water—that put pressure on these communities has been really, really eye-opening. And what’s clear to these community members is they have not been protected equally in this country for decades, and they believe that their government has failed them.


Gideon Resnick: Can you talk about overcoming that? You know, many of these people have already endured generations of health issues and innumerable other things. So how do you kind of overcome that?


Michael Regan: You start with what we’re doing, which is this Journey to Justice tour. You know, for far too long, the government has not only ignored these issues, but they’ve told these community members that they are wrong. I’ve been telling them that they are right, that they deserve better, and that together we can chart a path forward.


Gideon Resnick: So I’m curious when you survey these situations yourself, how do you think the Build Back Better plan is going to sufficiently impact these communities?


Michael Regan: The Build Back Better agenda will be a significant shot in the arm for these communities. EPA will receive over $50 billion just to focus on water infrastructure alone. So, many of these water infrastructure, water quality problems that we’re seeing, we can put the resources towards these communities that need it the most and relieve a lot of pressure that they’ve been facing. And so we’re going to begin to tackle these problems with these resources that President Biden has helped lead us to have.


Gideon Resnick: And if the Build Back Better plan does not get passed or it gets stripped down at some point, Congress did pass the infrastructure bill, which has $240 billion that’s earmarked for environmental justice. But is all of this enough for like the immenseness of this problem you’re describing?


Michael Regan: You know, I think it’s a tremendous shot in the arm. Obviously, we wanted more. The president wanted more. But the amount that he is securing will be a significant shot in the arm. And really, we need to use these federal resources to invest in these communities, but it will also bring private capital off the sidelines. And I think we’ll have a nice public-private investment strategy, and that should create a lot of momentum.


Gideon Resnick: I want to shift to COP26 for just a moment. Do you think the promises, agreements, everything that was made there was kind of sufficient? Were you and the administration sort of happy with how things ended up going there?


Michael Regan: You know, I think that things went well. I was there talking about the rules around HFCs, which are multiple times more potent than CO2, our car and truck standards, and then the most stringent standard to reduce methane from the oil and gas industry. And so I think that people were excited to see America was back, and not only back but back with the plan. But listen, I’m not going to lie. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done. Not only from the United States, but from the international community as well.


Gideon Resnick: And did you have any other takeaways from there? Anything else you were sort of thinking about it after it was done?


Michael Regan: There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to phase out coal. But countries like China and India have to make more of a commitment. I believe that they will, because the commitments that we’re making in America are really reliant on evolving business models, advanced technologies, so it will make us globally competitive and create jobs while protecting the planet. And I believe other countries will respond to our leadership.


Gideon Resnick: Some of our listeners have some questions for you as well. So first, on Wednesday, this is after the conference, the Biden administration saw this pretty massive deal that would open more than, I think, 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling. That ultimately came about because of Republican attorneys general challenging the suspension of the sales. But one of our listeners asked basically why this would happen, quote, “despite aggressive rhetoric on the need for action against climate change.”


Michael Regan: You know, it’s going to take a while for this country and for the world to wean itself off of fossil fuels. But you know, we have to keep fighting. We’re going to see a few setbacks through legal hurdles. We’re going to see a lot of political rhetoric that wants to disavow the science. But the majority of people in this country and the majority of the market and the infrastructure is responding mightily to climate change, and we have to keep moving forward.


Gideon Resnick: Does it feel frustrating at all after COP26 that those political challenges that you’re alluding to are still there in terms of people not being on the same page essentially?


Michael Regan: It’s extremely frustrating. I have an eight-year old son and I constantly think about leaving this planet better than we found it. If we don’t act now, we’re going to be in real trouble. And the political back and forth has no place right now in what we need to do to protect this planet, but also to create jobs and to remain globally competitive. And so there are just so many wins here that we can take advantage of and pretending that the science isn’t real and that the jobs aren’t there is not good for the country.


Gideon Resnick: And another person, Caleb Brady, had a question for you about an upcoming Supreme Court case, West Virginia versus the EPA. That case challenges your agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. So Caleb wants to know your concerns about it and your contingency plans to enforce regulations quote, “in response to the almost inevitable six-three conservative opinion.”


Michael Regan: It is something that we’re paying very close attention to. And I think the Supreme Court is more so taking a look at not whether or not we can regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but how expansive are our authorities? We’re going to keep a close eye on what the Supreme Court is discussing, but we have to move forward with regulations that reduce carbon because this is what the planet needs. And we believe we have the legal authority to do so.


Gideon Resnick: And I want to wrap up here by going back to the ongoing tour. So how can listeners reach you to share stories about their communities and what they would hope for from your agency, or even the opportunity to ask questions or get in touch?


Michael Regan: You know, I think the listeners should tweet at us, contact us through Instagram, check out our website. Environmental justice is very core to everything that EPA is going to do during this administration. It’s something that we’re taking very seriously. And I’d like to say we believe that if we can get this right, it will serve as a rising tide for every community in this country and so we have to do better and we will do better.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so Priyanka, that was my conversation with EPA Administrator Michael Regan. You can see more of all of this on our social feeds later.


Priyanka Aribindi: Regan wraps up his tour today. We will have some links in our show notes so you can learn more. And that is the latest for now.


Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, WAD squad, and today we are doing a segment called The Solution, where we propose a fix to a news story that has created chaos in our world. Guiding us through it, as always, is our head writer Jon Millstein.


Jon Millstein: Thank you guys very much for having me on the show to do this important work.


Priyanka Aribindi: Very important.


Gideon Resnick: We are blessed—


Priyanka Aribindi: Very important.


Gideon Resnick: —to have you here.


Priyanka Aribindi: All right. If you are feeling bad about your prospects of ever owning a home, here is a story to uplift and inspire you. Someone just listed Madonna’s former Miami mansion for $30 million and that someone is an animal whose brain is too small to comprehend the concept of property. The seller is a German shepherd named Gunther the Sixth, according to reports from NPR, the AP, Newsweek, and countless others. He was born into wealth as the heir to a fortune once held by a German countess. The story goes that the Countess left her money to Gunther’s dog grandfather, presumably Gunther the Fourth—


Gideon Resnick: Yes, of course.


Priyanka Aribindi: —on her death in 1992. It has been managed by a board since then, and it’s now valued at $500 million.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: By some accounts, the youngest Gunther lives in Madonna’s old bedroom, eats caviar, travels by private jet, and there’s a hundred other things that give him away less joy than it would to literally roll around on a dead rat, since he is a dog.


Gideon Resnick: It’s true.


Priyanka Aribindi: Other accounts say that the Gunther story is completely made up and is just a way for the real owner of Madonna’s old house, the fame hungry son of an Italian billionaire, to generate publicity. In debunking this story, the New York Post said that  the law in the United States doesn’t even allow animals to own homes. That feels like a good law.


Gideon Resnick: There you go.


Priyanka Aribindi: Even if the animal has a fancy name like Gunther the Sixth. It’s all a lot to take in, and we have only just begun to separate fact from fiction. So for the probably untrue story of Gunther the dog who is selling Madonna’s old house, here is Jon with a highly-anticipated Solution.


Jon Millstein: The solution to this story is actually very simple. I need to become way smarter so I can avoid being tricked by rich Italians hell bent on making me look stupid in front of all my best friends.


Gideon Resnick: Tell them the truth.


Jon Millstein: I spent two hours of my one precious life learning the story of Gunther, lapping up every infuriating detail in the way that I assume a rich dog drinks sparkling water, feeling extremely confident that I had found something true and hilarious I could use to succeed at my job. My idea was that I would say that Gunther should be the first ever dog to feel shame, and I was going to propose cyber bullying him until he gave his money away or moved to Austin, Texas, to become libertarian. Those ideas are all useless now since the story is fake, and all I have to blame is my own barely functional brain, though Madonna herself was also tricked into thinking this story was real. She posted it on her Instagram so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. To become smarter in the future, I’ll use a combination of reading, having smarter friends, eating powerful, untested pills and wearing a helmet. My newly strong mind will shield me against all stories that make me resent dogs who are our world’s most beautiful creatures and really deserve nothing but our love and compassion. And perhaps all the money in the world.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Priyanka Aribindi: I think this is your best solution yet. I don’t know how you’re ever going to top this.


Jon Millstein: I really did dig into this story for a long time and just thought, how could this be real? It’s so hilarious. And it turns out it’s not real at all.


Priyanka Aribindi: You know, but like, not a bad day to spend a day at work.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: You know?


Jon Millstein: Yeah, just enjoying yarns about billionaire dogs.


Gideon Resnick: I’m just glad that you’re finally going to accept those gas station pills I keep offering you. You know? It’s about time that somebody else had those.


Priyanka Aribindi: That was The Solution. We will be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Julius Jones was scheduled to be executed for a murder conviction yesterday afternoon. But just hours before Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed an executive order commuting Jones is sentence to life in prison without parole. In 1999, Jones was convicted in the murder of Paul Howell, who was killed in a carjacking. At the time, Jones was a 19-year old student at the University of Oklahoma and a promising basketball star. He always maintained his innocence and said that he was framed by the actual shooter who has since allegedly confessed to the killing. The Innocence Project, high-profile athletes such as Steph Curry, and celebrities like Kim Kardashian spoke out against Jones receiving the death penalty. And earlier this month, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency. After Governor Stitt signed the executive order, Jones’s Mother released a statement expressing gratitude that her son was not sentenced to death for a quote, “murder that occurred when he was home with his family.”


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m very glad that this happened, but listening to this, it sounds like there is a lot more that needs to happen with this case. So here’s hoping.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. Yes.


Priyanka Aribindi: Here is hoping. More than 400 Iraqis were reportedly flown home from Belarus on Thursday after weeks of life threatening conditions at the border that the country shares with Poland. Migrants have been camped out in freezing temperatures, seeking the opportunity for a better life in the European Union, of which Poland is a part. Many others who were left behind have apparently been moved into a warehouse by Belarussian authorities, though there is a certain lack of clarity here because both Belarus and Poland have been trying to craft their own narratives. All the while, people on the ground have been suffering. One man in an AP report said that he quote, “had to live on three dates in a whole day.” The U.N. refugee agency said that about half of the migrants there were women and children. At least 12 people reportedly died in recent weeks, including a one-year old. German chancellor Angela Merkel has been attempting to figure out an end to the crisis, but has also not indicated that she will accept migrants into the country at the same scale as happened in 2015.


Priyanka Aribindi: Two Iranian nationals were indicted by the Justice Department yesterday for interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The two men are accused of a hacking and disinformation campaign between August and November of last year that specifically targeted American voters. They allegedly sent threatening emails to scare voters, gained access to U.S. media companies’ computer networks, and broke into 11 states’ voting related websites. Not an insignificant amount of states.


Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely not.


Gideon Resnick: No. More than a handful. More specifically, officials found the pair emailed thousands of voters the month before the election, claiming to be Proud Boys who would physically attacked email recipients if they did not change their party affiliation and vote for former President Donald Trump. On Thursday, Matthew G. Olson, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said they do not believe anyone switched their party affiliation or voted differently as a result of the emails. That is good. He also said that the DOJ is going to continue to fight foreign disinformation campaigns, and the government imposed sanctions against multiple people tied to an Iranian company behind these cyberattacks.


Priyanka Aribindi: You know, I’m glad about the emails that nobody changed, you know, who they were voting for their affiliations, etc. but also like who is not at this point, trying to hack into our elections. Like, would just love to know.


Gideon Resnick: Everyone. Open season.


Priyanka Aribindi: It feels like everybody, everybody is doing this.


Gideon Resnick: It’s a real may the best man win strategy.


Priyanka Aribindi: I guess.


Gideon Resnick: May the best man, woman, fake Proud Boy win. You know?


Priyanka Aribindi: I guess there is trouble in the metaverse—yes, there is—since bipartisan coalition of eight state attorneys general announced that they are formally investigating Instagram’s harmful effects on children. This comes after whistleblower Frances Haugen’s leak of multiple studies showing the app’s negative impact on kids, particularly teenage girls who are struggling with body image issues. The AGs from states including Massachusetts and California, believe that Meta, which was formerly known as Facebook, has violated consumer protection laws and has put the public at risk by intentionally gearing its platform towards younger users. In echoing earlier responses to these findings, a spokesperson for Meta told The Wall Street Journal that the whole thing is a misunderstanding, and called out other social media companies for using similar tactics. OK, then. The full list of states who are joining the investigation has yet to be made public, but a Massachusetts spokesperson said that it is quote, “broad and nationwide.”


Gideon Resnick: Wow. Yeah, again, in describing the number of states in a headline that we read, quite a lot! Broad and nationwide sounds like quite a lot of people are involved. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: do you have opinions about What A Day, the show that you were listening to? Now is your chance to let us know. Leave us a review and tell us what you want to hear. We really, really appreciate the feedback and can’t wait to read what you submit, so long as it’s extremely nice and sweet and involves five stars.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, just like, you know, throw some names in there, throw some stars, we could use it. That is all for today. If you are into reading, and not just the contact info of Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian like me—I wish—What A Day Is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I am Priyanka Aribindi..


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And don’t drink anymore, rich dogs!


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m over these rich dogs.


Gideon Resnick: I’m tired.


Priyanka Aribindi: They are living the life


Gideon Resnick: Class warfare, but among dogs. I support it. I’m just going to say. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.


Show Notes

  • EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan to Embark on “Journey to Justice” Tour – https://bit.ly/3nsRBHs
  • The Guardian: “Residents of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley hopeful for action after EPA head’s visit” – https://bit.ly/3CzHqVE