Senate panel advances Trump's controversial EPA chemical pick

Senate panel advances Trump's controversial EPA chemical pick
© Getty Images

A Senate Committee voted Wednesday to approve the nomination of President Trump’s controversial nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical safety office.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-10 to advance Michael Dourson's nomination. The vote fell along party lines, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

By the same 11-10 party-line vote, the panel approved William Wehrum, a lawyer for industry clients, to lead the EPA’s important air and radiation office, which oversees air pollution, climate change regulations, car pollution standards and other major programs.

The votes send both nominees to the full Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell15 senators miss votes despite McConnell's criticism of absentees Overnight Health Care: Azar defends approach on drug rebates | Trump presses Senate to act quickly on opioid crisis | Kentucky governor's Medicaid lawsuit tossed Dem senator introduces proposal to rein in Trump on security clearances MORE (R-Ky.) can schedule a vote for confirmation.

Dourson is a toxicologist, and has worked for two decades at a firm he founded to conduct toxicology assessments, often for companies that make or sell chemicals.

In that role, he often came to conclusions that were far more industry-friendly than those reached by the EPA, states, universities or other researchers.

Dourson started working at the EPA as a “senior adviser” to EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittPruitt made one phone call to White House using K soundproof booth Walmart becomes latest retailer to ban chemicals found in paint strippers Juan Williams: Trump weaves web of corruption MORE last week, raising objections from Democrats.

The panel’s Democrats repeatedly ripped into Dourson and Wehrum for what they saw as clear conflicts of interest.

“Dr. Dourson’s record is clear. Throughout much of his career, Dr. Dourson has essentially sold science to the highest bidder and recommended standards for toxic chemicals that were tens, hundreds, sometimes even thousands of times less protective than EPA’s own standards,” said Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate panel spars with Trump administration over treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children Senate study: Trump hasn’t provided adequate support to detained migrant children Overnight Energy: Trump elephant trophy tweets blindsided staff | Execs of chemical plant that exploded during hurricane indicted | Interior to reverse pesticide ban at wildlife refuges MORE (Del.), the top Democrat on the panel.

“Can this be the best person the administration can find to entrust responsibilities of this critical leadership post? God, I hope not.”

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump lauds ICE at White House event The Hill's Morning Report — Trump showcases ICE ahead of midterm elections 2020 hopefuls skeptical of criminal justice deal with Trump MORE (D-Calif.) said Dourson and Wehrum “so clearly are in conflicts of interest on the issues that they are now going to be in charge of making decisions on that will impact directly the American public.”

Democrats also lamented the approval of Dourson as a loss for last year’s bipartisan Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform, which overhauled the nation's chemical safety rules. The act got nearly unanimous approval in both chambers of Congress.

They said Dourson didn’t sufficiently show that he supports the goal of the law, named after the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

“Mr. Dourson does not represent a person who can carry out the work of this committee in the TSCA reform legislation that we passed,” said Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Businesses fear blowback from Russia sanctions bill Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech MORE (D-Md.)

“I can’t believe that this would go down to a party-line vote. If it does, I think it doesn’t bode well for the bipartisan cooperation in this committee to pass legislation that would be effectively implemented in a manner in which it’s negotiated in this committee.”

Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Trump EPA to defend Obama smog rule | Wheeler gets warmer welcome before Senate | Animal rights groups sue Interior over pro-hunting council EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing Trump has no plans to endorse in Tennessee GOP governor's race: report MORE (R-Wyo.) spoke only briefly about the nominees at the hearing, saying they “have proven themselves to be well-qualified, experienced and dedicated public servants.”

Pruitt also thanked the panel for the vote.

"These top leaders in their fields will bring positive change to EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment," he said in a statement. "We look forward to a full Senate vote on these highly-qualified leaders."

The committee also voted to approve Matthew Leopold to be the EPA’s general counsel and David Ross to lead its water pollution office, along with Jeffrey Baran for a new five-year term at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The votes for those nominees were all by voice.

This story was updated at 10:56 a.m.