‘Send Him To Angola’: White Lawmaker Attacks First Black EPA Chief

Michael Regan, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks at an event where US Vice President Kamala Harris will speak about the administration’s investments in climate action at Naomi Drenan Recreational Center on April 4, 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Allison Joyce / AFP) (Photo by ALLISON JOYCE/AFP via Getty Images)

by Willy Blackmore

No one has run the Environmental Protection Agency quite like Michael Regan has. Since his appointment by President Biden in 2021, Regan has overseen what has at times been an aggressive, climate justice-minded agency that has undertaken a number of high-profile civil-rights investigations. 

Even if the investigations have largely stopped since Louisiana’s former attorney general and now Governor, Jeff Landry, sued the agency, Regan’s EPA continues to make significant progress through its role as a regulator. Just last week, the agency announced the strictest possible standards for PFASs in drinking water (zero allowed) and new limits on chemical pollutants that will force a factory in the heart of Cancer Alley into drastic changes

All of this aside, Regan also happens to be the first Black person to head the agency.

That a Black EPA administrator is trying to protect Black Americans from both pollution and climate change in a way that the federal government arguably never has before is a powerful image — and it’s also one that has made Regan a target for racist attacks. 

The latest came last week, when Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter that Regan should be charged with extortion over the new chemical plant regulations. Higgins represents the largely rural southwest corner of the state, where the massive new LNG export terminal was slated to open before the Biden Administration put it on hold. About half of the 200 facilities affected by the EPA’s new chemical emissions rules are located in Texas and Louisiana, including Higgins’ district. 

“Send that arrogant prick to Angola for a few decades,” Higgins wrote.

While Angola is the state penitentiary in Louisiana, the reference to the former plantation turned infamous prison farm feels like more than a dog whistle when it’s coming from Higgins. 

After all, in 2020, the Congressman once posted an image of an armed Black protester on Facebook, writing, “I’d drop any 10 of you where you stand.” The post was quickly removed by moderators. So Higgins has sort of lost the benefit of the doubt.

More recently, in a 2022 hearing, Rep. Higgins was incredibly combative with Raya Salter, an environmental lawyer who is Black. He asked Salter repeatedly — at one point addressing her as “boo” — what she would do about all the various products in the world that have come to be made from petrochemicals like plastic—everything from clothes to phones to the chair she was sitting in. “You have no answer for this stuff,” he said.

And while she did have an answer — that we need to move away from fossil fuels and shut down petrochemical facilities like the many in Louisiana — Salter had a question for Higgins, too. “Search your heart and ask your God what you are doing to the Black and poor people in Louisiana,” she said. And he had no answer.