EPW Hearing Statement: Hearing on the Nominations of Michael Dourson, Matthew Leopold, David Ross, and William Wehrum to be Assistant Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jeffery Baran to be a Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Hearing on the Nominations of Michael Dourson, Matthew Leopold, David Ross, and William Wehrum to be Assistant Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, 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 submitted for the record:

“Thanks to all of you for appearing before us today. Before I discuss your nominations, I must once again express concern about Administrator Pruitt’s failure to be responsive to Members of this Committee. Our complaints are actually very similar to those voiced by my Republican colleagues when they were in the minority and a Democrat was in the White House. 

“Fast forward to the present. We are four days into the new fiscal year, and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has yet to appear before the Committee to discuss EPA’s proposed budget. Since Mr. Pruitt was confirmed, Democratic Members of this Committee have sent him 26 public letters requesting information. He has fully responded to only SEVEN. While EPA has made more effort of late to provide substantive responses to our requests and has finally agreed to our request that Mr. Pruitt publish his calendar, more effort must be made before I can agree to support any EPA nominees. 

“Turning to today’s hearing, we have five nominees before us. For the most part, I believe that presidents, governors, mayors and other elected CEO’s should generally be allowed to assemble their leadership teams. That’s why I’ve tried to find a way to support qualified nominees proposed by Presidents of both parties over the years. However, I have serious and unresolvable concerns with two of the nominees before us today.

“Just over a year ago, Members of this Committee celebrated a rare, bipartisan achievement when Congress almost unanimously enacted comprehensive reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act. All of us – from Jim Inhofe to Ed Markey – worked hard to build consensus on a rewrite of TSCA because a decades-old lawsuit had made it all but impossible for EPA to ban, or otherwise regulate, some of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. We all share a strong bipartisan interest in seeing the new law implemented in an impartial, credible and responsible manner. Regrettably, I am concerned that Dr. Dourson is not the leader we need for that job.  

“Never, in the history of EPA, has a nominee to lead the chemical safety office had such deep ties to industry. Never has a nominee had such a long record of recommending chemical safety standards that are as much as thousands of times less protective than those recommended by regulators. Never has a nominee so consistently under-estimated the risks of chemical exposures to the most vulnerable among us. I’d like to recognize the presence of numerous people present at our hearing today who have suffered greatly due to exposures to harmful chemicals. These people traveled from all across the country to be here today. Having said that, Dr. Dourson did make a good faith effort to respond to many of the pre-hearing questions I sent him. That’s the good news, and I ask unanimous consent to place those materials in the record. Unfortunately, the bad news, his answers did not alleviate my concerns about his nomination and suitability to serve. 

“I regret to say that my second concern with the nominees before us today is the nomination of Bill Wehrum to be EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation. He is a Delawarean, with whom I’ve run a number of races over the years, and we occasionally ride the same train from Wilmington to Washington. He is a good person, but he is not, in my judgement, a good choice for this important job. In 2005, Mr. Wehrum was nominated for the very same post. I opposed his nomination then due to concerns that he deferred too frequently to industry rather than protecting public health. Moreover, he suppressed scientific information and was not responsive to Congressional requests. Mr. Wehrum’s nomination failed to receive Senate approval. Though unconfirmed, he served for two years as head of the Air Office. Sadly, I fear that too little has changed since he last appeared before this Committee. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

“Thirty-one: the number of times Mr. Wehrum has represented industry in lawsuits against the EPA since 2009. 

“Twenty-seven: the number of times that public health groups prevailed in court when challenging clean air regulations that Mr. Wehrum helped to craft at EPA because the rules didn’t follow the law or protect public health.

“Ten: the number of additional years that children were exposed to toxic power plant emissions due to regulatory delays Mr. Wehrum put into place while he was at the EPA.

“One: the number of times industry-supported language from Mr. Wehrum’s old law firm made it verbatim into a clean air regulation that he helped to write at EPA.

“Zero: the number of times Mr. Wehrum advocated in court for stronger clean air regulations since leaving the EPA, an especially troubling number for those in down-wind states like Delaware. Zero is also the number of times Mr. Wehrum expressed a desire to protect public health when he and I met prior to this hearing.

“I’d now like to say a few words about the other three nominees. For most of his career, Mr. Leopold has worked in public service. I look forward to hearing how he plans to meet the standards of integrity demanded of the General Counsel, especially at a time when his prospective client – the current EPA Administrator – has already amassed a record of controversial and legally questionable actions.  

“While Mr. Ross has represented problematic positions on the Clean Water Rule and pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, he has a reputation for being knowledgeable and thoughtful. I look forward to learning more about how he plans to apply those traits to the role of Assistant Administrator for Water.

“Finally, I believe it is critical that the NRC has consistent leadership from both political parties, especially as the nuclear industry faces an uncertain future. I am heartened that – after my repeated calls to do so – this Administration re-nominated Jeff Baran. I look forward to confirming all three pending NRC nominees soon to provide stability to the NRC. 

“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”