Energy & Environment

Dems lambaste Trump’s ‘outrageous’ EPA chemical safety pick

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats slammed President Trump’s pick to be the nation’s top chemical regulator at a Wednesday hearing, painting him as a hired gun for the industries he would regulate.

Michael Dourson, tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical safety and pollution prevention office, has worked for the last two decades to conduct chemical risk research on behalf of clients including industry groups, companies and governments.

Democrats in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee repeatedly brought up instances when Dourson’s organization, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, made far more industry-friendly findings on chemical exposure risks than the EPA, individual states or other authorities.


“Never in the history of the EPA has a nominee to lead the chemical safety office had such deep ties to industry,” said Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the panel’s top Democrat.

“Never has a nominee had such a long record of recommending chemical safety standards that are as much as thousands of times less protective than those recommended by regulators. Never, to my mind, has a nominee so consistently underestimated the risks of chemical exposures to the most vulnerable among us.”

“You’re not just an outlier on this science, you’re outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are,” opined Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) started to cry as she spoke about residents of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., who had come to the hearing. They’ve been diagnosed with numerous illnesses, including cancer, due to drinking water contamination from perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), linked to a Saint Gobain’s Performance Plastics plant.

Dourson was on a panel in 2002 that settled on a far higher safe exposure level of PFOA than the EPA has since recommended.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to live and not know if the water that your children are being bathed in is safe, if they’re going to get cancer when they’re 25, if they’re going to be able to have kids,” Gillibrand said. “Their lives are so affected by the decisions that you have made.”

“Over the years, you seem to have become quite good and quite comfortable at producing this type of pseudoscience for the highest bidders,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). “But manipulating science to achieve a predetermined outcome is not what the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention should be about.” 

Dourson defended himself, saying he would commit to the law and the EPA chemical office’s mission to protect the public and the environment from chemicals.

“If confirmed … I will dedicate my mind, body and spirit to the work of this office, to working with its dedicated staff, to the protection of the American public, including its most vulnerable and its environment, from exposure to pesticides and otherwise unregulated chemicals,” he told senators.

“I will not deviate in my decisions from the scientific principles of toxicology and risk assessment that have been taught to me by my mentors and coworkers, nor deviate from the code of ethics of the society of toxicology or my society for risk analysis, nor ever stop listening to my colleagues whose expertise I do not have, but otherwise cherish.”

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who came to the committee to introduced Dourson, said his “expertise in his field of expertise has been recognized time and time again.”

While Dourson received the most scorn for the Democrats, they also took on William Wehrum, Trump’s choice to lead the EPA’s air and radiation office. He is an attorney with Hunton & Williams representing numerous industry groups and companies challenging EPA air rules, and he was the air office’s acting head for years under former President George W. Bush.

Carper said that Wehrum, who lives in Delaware, asked the senator to introduce him at the hearing, but he declined, citing his opposition to the nomination.

“I think he’s a good person,” Carper said. “But he’s not, in my judgment, a good choice for this particular job.”

Carper cited 27 times that federal courts have overturned regulations on which Wehrum worked during his previous time at EPA.

The committee also heard from Matthew Leopold, Trump’s nominee to be the EPA’s general counsel, and David Ross, his pick to lead the water office.

Some of the committee’s Republicans criticized the renomination of Jeffrey Baran for a new term at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“Mr. Baran’s nomination is a big ask,” committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said, citing “deeply troubling” votes Baran took on licensing issues at the nuclear regulator.

Barrasso also used the hearing to criticize what he says is the continued refusal of Senate Democrats to allow floor votes on Trump nominees, such as Susan Bodine, the pick for the EPA’s enforcement office.
Democrats say the EPA hasn’t been responsive to their oversight requests. But Barrasso brought out stacks of paper that he said were the more than 2,800 pages of responses.
“Claiming EPA is not responsive as an excuse for not confirming important nominees doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said.

Tags Ed Markey Environmental Protection Agency John Barrasso Kirsten Gillibrand Tammy Duckworth Tom Carper
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