These Two Controversial Nominees Just Got One Step Closer to The EPA

"I have never been this troubled on this committee, or any committee, in 17 years."

SCIENCE AF STAFF
26 OCT 2017
 

Two controversial nominees are one step closer to serving Scott Pruitt at the EPA, thanks to a vote from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) on Wednesday.

 

Earlier this year, Michael Dourson and William "Bill" Wehrum were tapped by President Trump to serve as assistant administrators to the EPA. Their nominations have been hotly-contested by Democrats and conservationists ever since. 

Ultimately, the committee voted along party lines to approve both Dourson and Wehrum, who will now await a full Senate vote.

After the committee made its final decision, leading democrat on the committee Senator Tom Carper said, "We've done the wrong thing. I have never been this troubled on this committee, or any committee, in 17 years."

Here is a little bit of background information on each nominee:

 

Michael L. Dourson

Michael L. Dourson is one of the most controversial nominations that President Trump has made this year.

If Dourson is approved by the full Senate, he will take the top job in regulating toxic chemicals at the EPA. The news is deeply troubling to democrats like Senator Carper, who believe Dourson's rich and chummy history with chemical manufacturers is immediately disqualifying. 

"Never in the history of the EPA has a nominee to lead the chemical safety office had such deep ties to industry," said Senator Carper.

 

For the last two decades, Dourson has worked as a consultant for many of the chemical companies that he will be responsible for regulating at the EPA. Dourson has even been accused of manipulating scientific evidence in order to better serve the interests of these chemical manufacturers.

Most concerning of all is Dourson's work at the Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment group, where the nominee has a long history of recommending chemical safety standards well below those recommended by regulators at the EPA. 

Some of his research, paid for by Koch Industries, has falsely claimed that dangerous chemicals like Perchlorate, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Trichloroethylene (TCE), and 1,4,-Dioxane are safe for public usage.

"You're not just an outlier on this science, you're outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are," Senator Edward Markey said to Dourson at his first hearing.

In particular, Dourson has been scrutinised for his previous research into the health effects of petroleum coke in Chicago. The research, which was also funded by the Koch brothers, directly opposes the EPA's current assessment that dust from petroleum coke is a serious health risk.

"This man used fake pseudo-science to justify putting more pet coke into the atmosphere in southern Chicago and that hurt my constituents," Senator Duckworth told the Enquirer.

 

The chemicals that Dourson has approved in the past have been associated with adverse health effects like cancer, birth defects and development problems in children. The New York Times even went so far as to deem Dourson a "scientist for hire" after raising concerns about his association with the tobacco industry and his work for the American Chemistry Council.

If Dourson is approved by the full Senate, he will oversee the implementation of the updated Toxic Substances Control Act, where he will be confronted with regulating several chemicals he has been paid to work with in the past. When asked whether he would recuse himself from these assessments, Dourson refused.

Nevermind the criticism, at one of his hearing's Dourson said, "Bringing good science and doing it in a collaborative and transparent manner has been my life's passion."

 

William "Bill" Wehrum

William Wehrum is an attorney who was nominated by President Trump to lead the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. 

As associate administrator, Wehrum would oversee emission-related regulations, including carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector, ozone pollution, and mercury.

 

So it is understandably worrying that Wehrum does not accept the science behind human-caused climate change. 

In his first hearing in front of the EPW Committee, Wehrum argued instead that there is still doubt in the scientific community about whether humans are contributing to climate change. 

Senator Jeff Merkley was appalled by the nominee's answer.

"Why should the American people put into an office of significant influence someone who refuses to look at the facts directly that are so important to the health of this planet?" Merkley said during the hearing.

Wehrum's lack of scientific understanding aside, many environmental groups are more worried about his deep ties to industry.

According to a statement made by the Sierra Club, Wehrum has "dedicated his entire career to rolling back EPA health and clean air protections for Americans, while at the EPA and serving his industry clients."

In the past, Wehrum has aggressively supported the idea that the EPA should deny greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court ultimately disagreed, but environmental advocates are understandably worried that such a candidate could be detrimental to future environmental policy-making.

Wehrum has already been denied this very same position once in 2006, when Democrats won control of the Senate and blocked Wehrum from receiving a permanent position at the EPA under the Bush administration.

This time, critics of Wehrum may not have the numbers to do so again.