The drive for clean water and air for minority and low-income residents is inexorably linked to the march toward racial equality that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. championed, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan told North Carolina state employees Friday.

Regan, a Goldsboro native and Gov. Roy Cooper's former environment secretary, delivered the keynote address to hundreds attending the annual King Day state workers' observance at a downtown Raleigh church. The slain civil rights leader was born 94 years ago on Sunday.

Regan became President Joe Biden's head of EPA in early 2021. Regan mentioned his travels while administrator to communities to speak with people fearful about the threat of toxic waste, unclean water, and lead poisoning to themselves or their children.

“It’s never been more clear that the fight for civil rights is inseparable from the fight for environmental, economic, health and racial justice,” Regan said. “We simply cannot be for one without the other.”

Cooper introduced Regan at the service, praising him for helping “position our state as a leader in environmental justice” while Department of Environmental Quality secretary.

The observance was held in person for the first time since 2020. Coronavirus concerns prompted virtual ceremonies in 2021 and 2022.

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