Energy & Environment

Democrats scrutinize Trump consumer safety nominee over chemical issues

Bonnie Cash

Democrats on Tuesday scrutinized President Trump’s pick to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) over actions she has taken on chemical issues during her work in the Trump administration. 

Several Democratic senators questioned and criticized Nancy Beck, who has served in a top role at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, on decisions she made at the agency and during a subsequent White House detail. 

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) focused on the agency’s regulation of methylene chloride, a chemical used in areas such as paint stripping and pharmaceutical manufacturing that has been linked to cancer

Udall questioned why senators should trust Beck, and referenced the story of a woman named Wendy Hartley, whose 21-year-old son died after using the chemical

“Wendy’s son Kevin lost his life using a dangerous chemical in paint strippers, methylene chloride, while you stalled the effort to remove this chemical from store shelves,” he said.

Beck said her “heart goes out” to the families and noted that there is currently a ban on consumer sales of the substance, saying she is “confident” the ban will prevent “acute fatalities.”

“It is unacceptable that it took two years and a lawsuit for you to finalize this regulation and you still managed to put out a less protective rule which allows the use of methylene chloride in paint strippers for commercial use by workers,” Udall said, later adding, “had you and the EPA not delayed banning methylene chloride, Kevin would still be alive today.” 

“Your entire career has been less like a toxicologist conducting rigorous, unbiased science and more like a defense attorney zealously defending guilty chemical clients,” the senator added. 

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) asked Beck whether she was involved in a White House decision to direct the EPA to remove information about cardiac birth defects from risks listed for a chemical called TCE, which has been used as a grease remover. 

Beck responded that the lead agency, in this case the EPA, “[had] the pen,” meaning it made the ultimate decision. She declined to answer Cantwell’s question about her involvement or whether she advocated for removing the information about the birth defects. 

“What you’re asking for is deliberative information,” Beck said, giving that as her reason for not responding to the questions.  

Cantwell and other senators, including Republican Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) also questioned Beck on her role in regulating a class of cancer-linked chemicals called PFAS, which can be found in a variety of household products as well as firefighting foam. 

Beck has a background in the chemical industry, having worked at the American Chemistry Council, which represents many chemical companies, before joining the Trump administration in 2017. 

She has been a controversial pick for the position. More than 90 scientists wrote to the committee last week to express opposition toward her nomination, criticizing her handling of chemical safety evaluations among other aspects of her time at the EPA. 

“Beck’s approaches consistently disregarded scientific best practices, favor chemical manufacturers, and put vulnerable populations in harm’s way,” they wrote. 

However, more than 30 groups representing various industries wrote a letter in support of her nomination on Monday. 

“Dr. Beck, a Ph.D. toxicologist and scientific expert who has served in each of the past four presidential administrations, possesses the qualifications and skill set needed to serve effectively on the CPSC,” they wrote. 

Beck recently made headlines after the Associated Press reported she was involved in sidelining guidelines that were meant to assist communities with reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tags Chemical substances chemicals Consumer Product Safety Commission CPSC Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency EPA Maria Cantwell Shelley Moore Capito Tom Udall

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