EPW Business Meeting Statement: Consideration of EPA, FHWA and NRC Nominees

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a business meeting to consider the nominations of Michael Dourson, Matthew Leopold, David Ross, and William Wehrum to be Assistant Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, Paul Trombino to be Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration and Jeffery Baran to be a Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“We are meeting today to consider several important nominations.  First, I want to thank Chairman Barrasso for working to advance the re-nomination of Jeff Baran to continue to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I am hopeful that the Senate will soon be able to act on Mr. Baran’s nomination, along with the names of two Republican nominees for the NRC that this Committee advanced in June, so that the Commission will once again have a full quorum.

“Before turning to the nominees before us, I would be remiss if I did not reiterate once again the continued frustration and disappointment of the Democratic members on this Committee with the Environmental Protection Agency’s responses, or lack thereof, to many of our Congressional oversight requests. Of the 26 letters that members of this Committee’s minority have sent to Administrator Pruitt to request information since March, only nine have received complete answers. That’s nine letters over seven months.

“Now I know that some would say that batting .350 isn’t bad but, in truth, Mr. Pruitt is capable of doing a lot better. After all, it took him just 48 hours earlier this month to provide a substantive, written response to our friend and colleague from Iowa, Senator Ernst, with respect to the Renewable Fuel Standard. Forty-eight hours. He can do this, and I think most of us know it.

“To be fair, though, I should note that, of late, EPA has made some modest progress in responding to committee Democrats. Largely for this reason, I will not object to a voice vote on the two less controversial EPA nominees whose nominations I plan to support in today’s Committee vote – Matt Leopold and Davis Ross. I also welcome the chance to support the nomination of Paul Trombino to serve as the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.  I have no interest in delay for delay’s sake. I do have an abiding interest, however, in ensuring that the oversight requests of both Democrat and Republican senators receive the timely responses that they deserve. 

“And, I believe I also speak for every Democrat on this committee, and for more than a few Republicans, in saying that this committee has a legitimate interest in Administrator Scott Pruitt testifying before us soon, something he hasn’t found time to do in almost nine months subsequent to his nomination hearing.  

“Now, let me turn to the business before us. Today, we meet to consider the nominations of six individuals. Two of those nominations cause me – and a lot of other people in this country — grave concern.  One of those individuals is Bill Wehrum, the nominee to head EPA’s air office. In 2005, I voted against Mr. Wehrum because I feared he would impede efforts to clean our air and protect the health of Americans.  Sadly, my fears were not misplaced. One decade later, after reviewing Mr. Wehrum’s record, talking to him in person, as well as listening and reading his answers to questions posed during the hearing process, I regret to say that my position has not changed.

“Mr. Wehrum was evasive on many of the questions asked of him, even conveniently forgetting a case he worked on in opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard. What was clear, however, in the answers that he did give, and in his conversation with me, is that public health does not appear to be Mr. Wehrum’s one of his principle concerns. In fact, when asked to list the Clean Air Act regulations he does support, he answered, ‘I represent clients in private practice. It is my legal ethical duty to zealously represent their interests.’ Whether the pollutant is carbon, mercury, silica or other toxic substances, Mr. Wehrum has continued to  sides with polluters over science and doctors almost every time. As I said at his hearing, Mr. Wehrum is a good person but, regrettably, I do not believe he is the right person for this position.

“That brings me to the most troubling nominee before us today.  In fact, he is one of the most troubling nominees I have ever considered during my time on this Committee – Dr. Michael Dourson. In 2016, many members of this committee – Democrat and Republican alike – came together to finally pass badly-needed reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act after working to find common ground for years. Across the board, stakeholders enthusiastically supported our efforts because they saw the need for a credible, impartial and strong chemical safety regulator at EPA who could provide certainty and predictability, while also inspiring public confidence in the safety of the products that families use every day.

“Unfortunately, the nomination of Michael Dourson to lead EPA’s chemical safety office and implement TSCA reform makes a mockery of that entire process of which we were so proud. Dr. Dourson’s record is clear. Throughout much of his career, Dr. Dourson has essentially sold his science to the highest bidder and recommended standards for toxic chemical that were tens, hundreds and even thousands of times less protective than EPA’s own standards. Dr. Dourson had the opportunity to address some of our fears in his responses to our questions for the record. Instead, he did the opposite. For example, he did not answer a single one of the eight questions for the record that I asked him with respect to TSCA implementation. Not one. He would not describe how he thought EPA should protect people from exposures to dangerous chemicals, yet he wants to be the person who is charged with the job of protecting Americans from dangerous chemicals. Can this be the best person the Administration could find to entrust the responsibilities of this critical leadership post?  God, I hope not! 

“And then to learn last week that Dr. Dourson – who throughout this process and during his hearing presented himself as a member of the University of Cincinnati faculty – is already working at EPA further underscored that we’d be foolish to expect any straight answers from this nominee. But it’s really what Dr. Dourson didn’t say in his hearing or in his answers to our questions that is most disturbing to me. When confronted time and time again with stories of real people who have been harmed, some irreparably, by the chemicals he peddled as “safe,” Dr. Dourson never admitted that he may have been wrong, nor did he acknowledge the risks that these chemicals can pose.

“I would remind us all that this man is being considered for a position in which he would be entrusted to help protect the health and safety of millions of American people, but not once did he make clear that he understood that his determinations could be a matter of life or death for unsuspecting Americans. This is not just another nominee of Donald Trump. And this nominee is not just up for any job at EPA. The work done in the agency’s chemical safety office has a farther reach than most Americans will ever realize. Its work determines whether the products we use to clean our kitchen counters are safe. It determines whether the toys our children and grandchildren play with, or the bottles they use or the water they drink are free of chemicals that may hurt them or harm their development. There is a sense of moral obligation that whoever holds this job must feel. 

“It’s not enough to hold a Ph.D or to be a scientist or to have a good brain.  It’s also important that this person have a good heart and a conscience and an earnest desire to protect the people we all serve. Confirming the wrong person for this office can leave a generation or more of Americans at risk for dealing with irreversible consequences for the rest of their lives.

“This morning, I want to appeal especially to my colleagues who worked so hard in recent years to craft and pass TSCA legislation. Voting to confirm Michael Dourson is a vote to negate that hard-fought victory. We put politics aside then to do the right thing for this country. We have a chance do that again today or else, I’m afraid our efforts will largely have been for naught.

“I think it’s become clear in the past several weeks to most of us that Michael Dourson will not be the credible regulator that we envisioned when we wrote this law. He is most certainly not the one that the American people need.  We can do better than this. A lot of people across this country are counting on us to do just that.  Please join me in rejecting this nomination.”