NC'S MICHAEL REGAN BECOMES FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN TO LEAD EPA: Regan, 44, was confirmed Wednesday by the U.S. Senate to lead the agency, becoming the first Black man to be EPA Administrator. Regan was confirmed on a 66-34 vote, earning the backing of 16 Republicans, North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis among them. Regan previously worked at the EPA from 1998 to 2008 under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He then worked at the Environmental Defense Fund, leading climate efforts in the Southeast, before joining Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration in 2017. During his tenure in his home state, DEQ reached a settlement agreement with Duke Energy to clean up 80 millions tons of coal ash. He also established the state’s first Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board. “He will take all the good work that he’s been doing in North Carolina to Washington,” Cooper said Wednesday.
REPUBLICANS SEEK TO LIMIT GOVERNOR COOPER'S EMERGENCY POWERS: House Bill 264 would require Cooper or any future governor to get approval from the Council of State, a group of 10 officials elected statewide, when ordering schools or large swaths of the economy to close, as Cooper did last spring in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. The governor would have up to seven days after issuing a shutdown order to seek the council's support, and the council would then have to reaffirm its support every 30 days after that. The requirement applies only for orders that affect at least two-thirds of North Carolina's 100 counties. Cooper spokeswoman Dory MacMillan said in an email to WRAL News that the governor would review the bill "but is concerned about legislation that could make it difficult to quickly and effectively respond in an emergency." Republican officials have frequently criticized Cooper's shutdown orders over the past year, questioning his goal in keeping everything from bars to schools closed for months and decrying the impact on the state economy, family finances and student learning.
COOPER AND BERGER STRIKE A DEAL ON REOPENING SCHOOLS: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders announced compromise legislation Wednesday that will mean more K-12 students in North Carolina will return to daily in-person instruction, some almost immediately. The agreement, unveiled in a rare bipartisan news conference with the state's most powerful leaders, comes nearly two weeks after Cooper vetoed a GOP bill that would have mandated all districts have at least partial in-person instruction as the coronavirus pandemic improves. Cooper and Senate leader Phil Berger had said separately Tuesday that talks were taking place to find a resolution to the vetoed bill. “The good news is that I think we all want the same thing -- to open our schools to in-person instruction for all students and to do it safely with important emergency protections,” Cooper said at the announcement. The governor said decreasing case counts and improving vaccination rates helped make possible such a compromise. Districts would have 21 days to comply with the new law, but they could make changes as soon as it was signed. The Senate voted unanimously for the bill late Wednesday, and a House vote was expected Thursday.
MERRICK GARLAND CONFIRMED AS NEW U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senators voted 70 to 30 to approve Garland’s nomination. He will take over a Justice Department that saw its reputation battered as President Donald Trump sought to use its power to benefit his friends and hurt his enemies, and that is overseeing several high-profile cases that could be politically perilous. As a judge, Garland earned a reputation as a moderate consensus builder, and Biden selected him because he was viewed as someone who could restore the Justice Department’s credibility and independence from the White House on criminal matters. Garland has vowed to make decisions on criminal matters without regard to politics, and that the agency on his watch will be dedicated to fighting discrimination and domestic terrorism. He has said his first briefing will focus on the investigation into the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol — a sprawling, nationwide case that already has produced charges against about 300 people. Garland also has suggested he would favor a relaxation of the department’s pursuit of marijuana cases in states where the substance is legal, and has suggested he favors using court-enforced consent decrees again to spur changes at local police departments, a tactic the Trump administration all but abandoned. Such changes would push the department leftward and probably draw some conservative criticism. Obama tapped Garland for the Supreme Court seat in March 2016, although Republicans refused even to hold a hearing on the nomination, saying the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death had come too close to the presidential election. When Trump won, he tapped Neil M. Gorsuch to fill the seat. Garland’s becoming attorney general will leave a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which Biden will be able to fill.
THE STIMULUS PACKAGE ABOUT TO BE SIGNED THROWS A LIFELINE TO PARENTS: The relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan, includes some important changes to existing tax policy to help families with children who have been struggling to care for them as the pandemic closed schools. The most significant change is to the child tax credit, which will be increased to up to $3,600 (for children under 6) for 2021 from $2,000 per child. The credit, which is refundable for people with low tax bills, is $3,000 per child for children ages 6 to 17. The legislation also bolsters the tax credits that parents receive to subsidize the cost of child care this year. The current credit is worth 20 percent to 35 percent of eligible expenses with a maximum value of $2,100 for two or more qualifying individuals. The stimulus bill increases that amount to $4,000 for one qualifying individual or $8,000 for two or more. The value of the credit will be calculated by taking up to 50 percent of the value of eligible expenses, up to certain limits, depending on household income. The law would begin to reduce the credit below 20 percent for households with income of more than $400,000. Marc Goldwein, the senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, estimated that a family of five with household income of $150,000 could receive about $10,000 from the federal government this year, suggesting that the stimulus package would do much more than alleviate poverty. Many economists argue that directing aid to the poorest will have the biggest benefit because they are most likely to quickly turn around and spend the money on groceries, rent and other necessities, stimulating the economy. However, after a year of avoiding travel and dining, middle-class families are also likely to splurge as the pandemic subsides.