Kildee leads Democratic reps in pushing Flint native for key EPA job

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
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Washington — Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee is lobbying the Biden administration to appoint Flint native Micah Ragland to lead the Midwest regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Ragland, 43, of Detroit worked at the federal agency during the Obama administration and headed communication efforts on the ground in Flint during the city’s water crisis as EPA's director of public engagement.

Kildee, the Flint Township congressman, stressed the importance of having leadership at the EPA that understands the "Flint, Michigans, of America" to help move the agency in the right direction after the water crisis. 

Micah Ragland is director of corporate communications at DTE.

If appointed, Ragland would oversee EPA Region 5 that covers Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

"He's from Flint, and I think there's a certain poetry that comes with having a Flint person — a kid who like me was born and grew up in Flint — in charge of the regional office for the EPA in the wake of one of the greatest man-made environmental disasters we've ever faced," Kildee said. 

"It would send a strong message that the administration hears us."

Kildee admitted it might not be surprising that Ragland's hometown congressman is pulling for him to get the job, but at least 10 other Democrats are also backing him, including representatives from Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio. 

They signed onto a letter from Kildee to President Joe Biden in support of Ragland. Signees included Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills,Elissa Slotkin of Holly and Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township.

"Micah is keenly aware of the EPA’s important work to ensure that all communities, including communities of color, have access to safe and affordable drinking water," the lawmakers wrote.

"Furthermore, we know Micah is committed to ensuring environmental justice for disenfranchised communities, especially those across our region that have a heavy industrial presence."

Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky is pushing another candidate to lead Region 5 — Chicago native Debra Shore, who is a commissioner for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. A dozen members of the Illinois delegation sent a letter to Biden in support of Shore on Jan. 4.

But Kildee's letter notes that Ragland has the support of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, which represents staff members in the Region 5 office, whose workforce was reduced by 25% during the Trump administration.

"These cuts have meant less people to protect the region from pollution, restore the Great Lakes and redevelop our communities in a sustainable way," the Democrats wrote.

"We agree with AFGE that Micah is the right person to rebuild the integrity and trust in this region after years of Republican attacks."

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township (file photo)

The support for Ragland follows pushback this winter over Biden's selection of former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to serve as his climate czar. McCarthy's appointment prompted a bit of an outcry in Michigan and criticism of the agency's response to the lead contamination of the city's water supply.

Ragland left the EPA in 2017 and has since worked in corporate communications for DTE Energy and Walmart.

He previously spent 12 years working on Capitol Hill for various lawmakers including New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, Indiana Rep. Andre Carson and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn. He served as northeast political director for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. 

He graduated from Morehouse College and North Carolina Central University School of Law. The EPA job would involve his moving from Detroit to Chicago, where Region 5 is based.

“I am extremely grateful to receive the support of Congressman Kildee and other congressional offices that represent a diverse set of constituencies in EPA’s Region 5 territory," Ragland said in a statement to The Detroit News.

"If selected for the role, I look forward to working with members of Congress, EPA Region 5 staff, grassroots organizations and other key stakeholders in carrying out EPA’s mission of protecting the environment and helping to secure the public health.”

Kildee said he went to Northern High School with Ragland's second cousin, the late Joel Ragland, who was a local legend as star of the school's back-to-back state champion basketball teams.

"The perspective that comes from growing up in a place like Flint is hard. It's hard to learn anywhere else," Kildee said of Micah Ragland. "It's not just sort of some poetic justice, but his life experience is really important in terms of how he would function in that role."

Kildee said he's hoping the Biden administration will empower the EPA to use existing authority and law as it's intended to do things like protecting drinking water from contaminants and revising the lead and copper rule, which is considered ineffective.

"We have our job in the Congress to make a stronger regulatory framework and better resources, but none of that really means anything if we don't have an EPA that is willing to use the tools that we give them. That was the frustration that we had during the four years of the Trump administration," Kildee said. 

"The executive authority that the agency has is pretty robust, if the people running the agency decided to use it. We're looking for a more aggressive approach."

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