Senate panel advances Trump's controversial EPA chemical pick

Senate panel advances Trump's controversial EPA chemical pick
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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.

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The votes send both nominees to the full Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum No. 2 GOP leader eyes Wednesday of next week for possible votes on witnesses 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 PruittEPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity EPA's independent science board questions underpinnings of numerous agency rollbacks Overnight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses 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.

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“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 CarperDemocrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin Democrats, greens blast Trump rollback of major environmental law EPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity 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 HarrisCalifornia Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Steyer spokesperson: 'I don't think necessarily that Tom has bought anything' Biden wins endorsement of Sacramento mayor 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.).

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“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 CardinTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum New Parnas evidence escalates impeachment witnesses fight Pressure building on Pelosi over articles of impeachment 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 BarrassoWhat to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on 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.