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Trump's Chemicals Nominee Isn't Confirmed, But He's Started Working at The EPA Anyway

Dourson is now an "unpaid advisor" to the EPA.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
19 OCT 2017
 

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

In September, Trump tapped Dourson to lead the U.S. EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, but his candidacy has been hotly contested by democrats and environmentalists, who argue his previous experience working in the chemical industry represents a direct conflict-of-interest.

 

Dourson is yet to be confirmed by the Senate, but a new report from E&E has confirmed that Dourson is already working at the EPA in an unpaid advisory role.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is a member on the panel responsible for Dourson's confirmation, said she was "stunned" when she heard the news. 

"The fact that he has already begun advising the EPA administrator shows contempt for the committee's role in his nomination process and more importantly a profound disrespect to the families who are terrified about what toxic chemicals are going to do to their children's health," Gillibrand said in a public statement on Wednesday.

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Gillibrand isn't alone in her concern. Meredith McGehee, the chief of policy, programs and strategy at the ethics advocacy group Issue One, agrees that until he is confirmed, he shouldn't be working at the EPA.

"With political appointees, there is an oath to take or a paper to sign," McGehee said.

"And until that moment, they do not have the same obligations and they should not have the same responsibilities."

 

In his first hearing in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Dourson was roasted by Senate democrats, who focused on the nominee's close ties to the chemicals industry and his history of lax chemical safety standards.

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

Carper cited Dourson's previous 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 like the EPA. 

"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 the hearing. 

Senator Tammy Duckworth joined ranks with her fellow democratic Senators to question Dourson's research into the health effects of petroleum coke in Chicago. The research, 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," Duckworth told the Enquirer on Wednesday.

But Dourson promised in his hearing that he would respect the law and the EPA's mission to protect public health and the environment from chemicals. 

"I will not deviate in my decisions from the scientific principles of toxicology and risk assessment that have been taught to me by my mentors and coworkers, nor deviate from the code of ethics of the society of toxicology or my society for risk analysis, nor ever stop listening to my colleagues whose expertise I do not have, but otherwise cherish," Dourson said. 

Still, many of the Senators on the committee remain concerned, especially now that Dourson is already working at the EPA.

"There is no way around it," said Gillibrand in her Wednesday statement. 

"Michael Dourson has spent his career helping chemical companies cover up deadly chemical contamination. His record of greenwashing the actions of chemical companies and placing their profits over the health and well-being of children is appalling."

Dourson's confirmation hearing was stalled yesterday by Republicans, but is expected to take place sometime next week.