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By Greg Barnes

Gov. Roy Cooper has nominated a high-ranking official with the Environmental Defense Fund as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

If the state legislature approves her, Dionne Delli-Gatti would replace Michael Regan, who President Joe Biden has nominated as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Regan and Delli-Gatti both worked for the Environmental Defense Fund before Cooper asked them to lead the DEQ. Regan served as the EDF’s southeast regional director; Delli-Gatti is its director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Southeast for climate and energy.

“The fight against climate change is one of the most important battles of our lifetime. Dionne Delli-Gatti is an experienced leader who will help North Carolina continue the progress we’ve made over the last four years with cleaner energy, air and water,” Cooper said Tuesday in announcing Delli-Gatti’s nomination on his Facebook page.

Dionne Delli-Gatti. Photo credit: Environmental Defense Fund

Work experience

Before going to work for the Environmental Defense Fund, Delli-Gatti spent six years at the EPA’s regional office in Atlanta as a congressional and government liaison. She has also worked at the Ohio EPA, for the city of Dallas, Texas, and as an environmental specialist at Turner Collie & Braden Inc, an engineering services company in Texas.

Delli-Gatti is an Air Force veteran who holds a bachelor’s degree from Wright State in environmental geology and a master’s of science degree from the University of North Texas in environmental science.

The EDF website says Delli-Gatti’s areas of expertise include energy policy, government affairs and environmental justice and equity.

“Dionne leads a team of professionals dedicated to finding market-based climate solutions designed to provide lasting carbon emissions reductions that maintain North Carolina’s clean energy leadership position and power the Southeast’s economy reliably and affordably,” according to the website. “Dionne and her team are also working to remove barriers to and advance the adoption of zero-emission trucks and buses throughout the southeast.”

Delli-Gatti could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Delli-Gatti ‘deeply honored’

In Cooper’s announcement, Delli-Gatti said, “I’m deeply honored and humbled to be nominated by Governor Cooper to lead this critical state agency. I’m ready to get to work for the people of North Carolina, digging in on the tough environmental issues our state is facing.”

Those tough environmental issues include a changing climate that threatens catastrophe if the state doesn’t respond quickly enough to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. If approved as the DEQ secretary, Delli-Gatti would likely oversee Cooper’s Executive Order 80, which calls for a 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2025.

She would also inherit the state’s fight against per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly known as PFAS or “forever chemicals” — that researchers say potentially threaten the drinking water for a million people in the Cape Fear River basin.

Delli-Gatti would also oversee a consent order that requires the Chemours chemical company to eliminate PFAS from escaping its plant along the Cape Fear River in Bladen County. The order also requires that Chemours provide clean drinking water to more than 4,000 homes surrounding the plant whose private wells have been contaminated with PFAS, a suspected carcinogen.

Among the state’s many other environmental problems, Delli-Gatti would also have to defend against pollution from the hog and poultry industries, resolve remaining issues with Duke Energy’s coal ash pits, and fight for environmental justice and equality.

Praise for Delli-Gatti

Delli-Gatti’s nomination was praised by the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Dionne’s background in advancing clean energy makes her an excellent person to take on the continuing work of moving North Carolina to a clean energy economy,” Cassie Gavin, the chapter’s senior director of government relations, said in a statement. “We’re glad to see her continue this mission in a new role, and we look forward to working with her to fight the impacts of climate change and hold accountable polluters who threaten our environment and our communities.”

In another statement, Hawley Truax, Southeast regional director of the EDF, called Delli-Gatti “a thoughtful and dedicated leader.”

“During her time with Environmental Defense Fund, Dionne was known for bringing stakeholders of all perspectives to the table, digging in to find common ground, and tirelessly working toward solutions that advance environmental stewardship, public health, and economic prosperity,” Truax said.

Dan Crawford, the NC League of Conservation Voters’ director of governmental relations, also supports Delli-Gatti’s nomination.:

“There was a big void at DEQ where Michael Regan’s leadership had been, and Gov. Cooper had a monumental task replacing him,” Crawford said in a statement. “But in Dionne Delli-Gatti, he has picked someone who understands both policy and politics. Having worked with Dionne for years, we’re confident she’ll be able to bring regulators, legislators, industry, and community stakeholders together to advance clean energy and environmental justice for every North Carolinian.”

Meanwhile, Regan continues to go through the congressional confirmation process for the EPA administrator’s job. A confirmation hearing was held in early February, but no decision has been reached.

Regan appears to be in lockstep with Biden, who has promised an aggressive approach to fighting climate change. Regan would become the first Black man to head the EPA.

Greg Barnes

Greg Barnes retired in 2018 from The Fayetteville Observer, where he worked as senior reporter, editor, columnist and reporter for more than 30 years. Contact him at: gregbarnes401 at gmail.com