EPA head Regan defends $20B green bank: ‘I feel really good about this program’

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday defended a new $20 billion federal “green bank” program, saying it will finance a variety of projects to create low-carbon solutions to combat climate change, including in disadvantaged communities that are most affected by pollution.

The money could fund tens of thousands of eligible projects ranging from residential heat pumps and other energy-efficient home improvements to larger-scale projects such as electric vehicle charging stations and community cooling centers, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

Republicans in Congress have called the program a “slush fund” and voiced concern over how the money will be used and whether there will be sufficient accountability and transparency from private groups that have received the money. The Republican-controlled House approved a bill last month to repeal the bank and other parts of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda.

“Here’s the real deal: EPA received $20 billion to invest in climate solutions. We felt ‘hey, the government isn’t the best at doing this, so why not have a transparent grant competition nationwide?’” Regan said at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

“So we had a great competition. We had eight great national recipients. We have metrics for how they can use capital to finance some of these projects that we believe will create low-carbon solutions,” he said, adding that the agency consulted with commercial banks and other financial experts.

“Twenty billion dollars is a heck of a lot of money,” Regan said. “But we know based on the eight recipients that we’ve chosen, the metrics that we put in place, we’re going to pull hundreds of billions of (dollars in) private capital off the sidelines” for climate-related projects. “I feel really good about this program.”

Regan, who has battled Republicans over a range of agency actions, including stricter emissions standards for cars, trucks and power plants, said it was “frustrating” to hear “some of the disingenuous attitudes from those on Capitol Hill who want to legislate public private partnerships … and then they complain about public-private partnerships” such as the green bank.

The program was created under the landmark climate law passed in 2022 with no Republican votes in the House or Senate.

Formally known as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, the $27 billion bank —including earlier money — is one of many federal efforts to invest in solutions that cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and address human-caused climate change, a topic the Democratic president has emphasized in his first three years in office and his reelection campaign.

The bank’s goals are to reduce climate and air pollution and mobilize public and private capital in the communities that need it most.

A total of $14 billion was awarded Thursday to the National Clean Investment Fund, which designated three private groups that will partner with states and the private sector to provide affordable financing for projects across the country.

Another $6 billion was awarded to the Clean Communities Investment Accelerator, which in turned granted money to five institutions that will work with other groups to establish regional hubs that make funding and technical assistance accessible to community lenders.

The investments follow a $7 billion Solar for All program launched last year for residential and community solar projects in low-income communities.

Grant recipients committed to spending $7 in private sector funding for each $1 in public funds to “reduce or avoid” 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The program earmarks 70% of the grants for disadvantaged and low-income communities that are often passed over by commercial banks and investors yet are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

On other topics, Regan said the agency is doing its best to ensure that a range of environmental rules survive likely court challenges by industry groups and Republican-led states. Lawsuits have been filed challenging an EPA rule over deadly soot pollution and other regulations.

The Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, has restricted EPA’s authority to fight air and water pollution — including a landmark 2022 ruling that limited its authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming. Justices heard arguments in February on a GOP challenge to the agency’s “good neighbor rule,” which restricts smokestack emissions from power plants and other industrial sources that burden downwind areas.

“We are living in challenging times in so many ways, but we at EPA are staying focused on the mission,” Regan said. “And one of the important reasons for shoring up scientific integrity is to lead with science, lead with the data to make sure … we’re setting environmental goals based on the data and the science.”

He added, “If we have to move just a tiny bit slower so that we write the rule a little bit more strategically, or stronger, based on experiences that we’ve had over the past couple years,” that’s what officials will do. “And then we have to really just defend that case in court.”

Regan also said the EPA will soon announce the first drinking water standards for PFAS chemical compounds, so-called “forever chemicals” that contribute to kidney disease, cancer and other illnesses.

“We are going to be very bold and very aggressive,” he said.

Separately, the EPA will soon announce a plan to sharply reduce the amount of chemical toxins released into the air by a Louisiana rubber plant and other industrial sites, Regan said.

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