Energy & Environment

Dems: EPA nominee may be circumventing confirmation

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats said Tuesday that a controversial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee could be circumventing the requirement that he be confirmed by the Senate.

The accusation was made in a letter that all 10 Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee sent to Michael Dourson, the nominee to be the EPA’s top chemical safety regulator, outlining “several concerns” with his status at the agency.

Dourson has not gotten a vote either in the Environment Committee or in the full Senate. But last week he started working at the EPA as an adviser to EPA chief Scott Pruitt.


A 1998 law prohibits any person from doing the duties of a Senate-confirmed official without having such confirmation.

“According, it would be unlawful for you to assume any of the delegated authorities of the [position] before the Senate confirms your nomination while serving as an ‘adviser to the administrator,’” wrote the senators, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

“Your appointment creates the appearance, and perhaps the effect, of circumventing the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent responsibility for the position to which you have been nominated,” they continued.

“Your improper involvement in EPA decisions could provide grounds for subjects of EPA regulations and oversight to challenge the legal validity of those decisions in court.”

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Dourson is complying with the relevant statutes and case law, and accused EPA officials under previous presidents of violating the law.

“The NLRB v. Southwest General decision held that the Vacancies Act prevents a person who has been nominated by the president to fill a vacant Senate-confirmed position ‘from performing the duties of that office in an acting capacity.’ Dr. Dourson is a senior adviser to the administrator and is not ‘performing the duties’ of the [position], which is what occurred in previous administrations,” he said.

The Environment Committee is planning to vote on Dourson’s confirmation Wednesday.

The panel’s Democrats sharply criticized him at a hearing this month as a shill for industries that make and use chemicals.

For the two decades before his EPA job, Dourson wrote toxicology assessments for clients, often companies, and often came up with conclusions far more friendly to the companies than those reached by states, the federal government and other researchers.

In their Tuesday letter, the Democrats asked Dourson seven detailed questions about what he is doing to ascertain whether he is violating a law.

They also asked him several questions about his opinions on certain chemical policy issues. The senators accused Dourson of not sufficiently answering those questions when they were initially sent to him in writing following his confirmation hearing.

Tags Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt Sheldon Whitehouse

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