U.S. lawmakers to question Biden's EPA pick over climate agenda

WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers will question President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the nation’s top environmental regulator on Wednesday with a focus on how he will execute the administration’s goal of decarbonizing the country’s cars and power plants.

Michael Regan, 44, would be the first Black man to lead the Environmental Protection Agency if confirmed by the Senate, and would take the reins at a time the agency has been weakened by Trump-era budget and staff cuts and bitter partisan dispute over Biden’s climate agenda.

“Taking the helm of EPA would be a monumental task under the best of circumstances, but it’s hard to imagine a more difficult moment than right now,” said Senator Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate environment committee.

Regan was formerly head of North Carolina’s environmental regulator, where he earned a reputation as a bipartisan consensus builder, and last year oversaw a settlement with Duke Energy Corp for the nation’s largest clean-up of coal ash.

As EPA chief, Biden would rely on him as a key leader in a government-wide approach to tackle global warming after four years during which his predecessor Donald Trump used the agency to dismantle regulation to boost drillers, electric generators, miners and manufacturers.

West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who is expected to be the top Republican on the committee, said she will grill Regan about the administration’s climate change agenda.

“I plan to ask him pointed questions about the approach the Biden administration will take and where accountability rests for these policies,” she said, adding she was worried Biden’s global warming efforts would cost jobs.

Biden says the shift to clean energy will be a net-positive for jobs and the economy, while reducing pollution.

He has already signed a slew of climate-focused executive orders, including suspending federal drilling lease auctions and rejoining international efforts to fight climate change, and has also promised to zero-out power sector emissions by 2035 and accelerate electric car deployment. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici Editing by Marguerita Choy)