Two GOP senators oppose Trump’s EPA chemical safety nominee

Two GOP senators oppose Trump’s EPA chemical safety nominee
© Camille Fine

Two Republican senators said Wednesday that they won’t support President Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical safety office.

The opposition from North Carolina Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrManafort developments trigger new ‘collusion’ debate Three GOP Senate candidates, NRA may have illegally coordinated ads: report Cohen to testify publicly before Congress MORE puts Michael Dourson’s nomination in danger. If one more Republican votes against him, he likely wouldn’t be confirmed to the post.

Even before Tillis’s and Burr’s opposition, Dourson was one of Trump’s most polarizing nominees. Democrats and environmentalists saw him as a lackey for the chemical industry who, for years, was paid to underplay the harms of various chemicals.

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The opposition from the North Carolina senators, first reported by the Wilmington, N.C., Star News, stems from a pair of major health controversies in the state surrounding water contamination at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and the recent discovery of the as-yet-unregulated chemical GenX in the Cape Fear River. The senators do not believe Dourson would be an effective force to protect the victims of those incidents.

“I will not be supporting the nomination of Michael Dourson. With his record and our state’s history of contamination at Camp Lejeune as well as the current Gen X water issues in Wilmington, I am not confident he is the best choice for our country,” Burr said in a statement.

“Over the last several weeks, Sen. Tillis has done his due diligence in reviewing Mr. Dourson’s body of work. Sen. Tillis still has serious concerns about his record and cannot support his nomination,” Tillis’s office said.

Dourson worked at the EPA until 1995. When he left, he started a nonprofit firm to evaluate chemical toxicity, often working for the chemical industry and making conclusions more industry-friendly than states, the EPA or universities.

In 2015, Dourson merged his firm into the University of Cincinnati, where he became part of the faculty, but did similar toxicology assessment work.

Democrats repeatedly hounded him on his history at a contentious hearing last month.

“You’re not just an outlier on this science, you’re outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are,” said Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Overnight Energy: Watchdog investigating EPA enforcement numbers | EPA's Wheeler faces Senate grilling | Interior's offshore drilling staff returning to work during shutdown EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (D-Mass.). Dourson has defended his work and committed to following sound science at the EPA.

After the hearing, EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Dem senator expresses concern over acting EPA chief's 'speedy promotion' MORE hired Dourson as an adviser, bringing criticisms that he was circumventing the confirmation process.

Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate, compared to 48 in the Democratic caucus. If all remaining senators stay along party lines, Vice President Pence could break a 50-50 tie.

The Environment and Public Works Committee voted late last month along party lines in favor of Dourson.