Senate to Hold Confirmation Hearing on Another Round of Industry-Friendly EPA Nominees

by Matt Shudtz
Evan Isaacson

September 19, 2017

Three influential EPA offices – the Offices of Air, Water, and Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention – share a common attribute. Each is at the center of a defining battle over its future. What is the future of climate regulation at EPA? How will the agency define "waters of the United States" given that the Trump administration is intent on dismantling the Clean Water Rule? And what will public safety officials do with last year's modifications to the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act? EPA has made bold moves under President Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt on each of these fronts, so you'd be forgiven if you thought that a Senate-approved nominee were at the helm, guiding each office through rough waters. Not so.

This Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing to review nominations for each of those offices, yet another example of how this administration is simultaneously rushing ahead to undo anything it sees as a mark of success for the Obama administration while slow-walking its basic duties like properly staffing agencies.

CPR's Member Scholars and staff have reviewed two of the nominees' past work and uncovered a strong bias in favor of promoting polluters' interests over the public health and environmental concerns that ought to motivate people at the highest levels of EPA.

Michael Dourson, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

Dr. Michael Dourson has a long and storied career promoting the interests of the chemical industry through sophisticated meddling in risk assessment policy. CPR engaged in a bit of our own sleuthing about Dr. Dourson's efforts and his firm, Toxicology Excellence in Risk Assessment (TERA), in our 2012 report, Cozying Up: How the Manufacturers of Toxic Chemicals Seek to Co-opt Their Regulators. Key findings from the report most relevant to the committee's review of Dr. Dourson's nomination to lead EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention include:

  • When state regulators in Wisconsin began to consider limits on the chemical byproducts produced when two widely used herbicides break down in the environment, the manufacturers of the herbicides hired TERA to convene an expert panel to develop a "reference dose" (RfD) for the chemicals. (An RfD is an estimate of the daily oral exposure to a chemical that will not result in adverse health effects.) The result was an article co-authored with government scientists that advocated drinking water limits up to 280 times higher than the limit Wisconsin regulators had set.
  • Significant amounts of TERA's funding is derived from corporations (e.g., Boeing, Alcoa) and government agencies (e.g., Department of Defense) that could reduce their compliance and cleanup costs if risk assessment policies and findings by regulatory agencies do not meet the bold public health goals Congress set in our toxic chemicals, clean air, and clean water laws.
  • Chemical manufacturers have taken advantage of agency scientists' interest in professional development by fostering the growth of organizations like the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and TERA, which blur the lines between professional development and policy advocacy. For instance, after the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council published the Silver Book on risk assessment, TERA set up a committee (the affiliated Alliance for Risk Assessment's Beyond Science and Decisions) to partner with agency scientists in order to increase their influence over future ...

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