With Senate rejection a near certainty, Trump nominee to head EPA chemical safety office withdraws

Groups urge greater scrutiny of Trump’s ‘disastrous nominees.'

MICHAEL DOURSON, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S NOMINEE TO SERVE AS THE HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF CHEMICAL SAFETY AND POLLUTION PREVENTION AT THE EPA, has withdrawn his name from consideration for the position. CREDIT: SCREENSHOT/SENATE EPW COMMITTEE
MICHAEL DOURSON, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S NOMINEE TO SERVE AS THE HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF CHEMICAL SAFETY AND POLLUTION PREVENTION AT THE EPA, has withdrawn his name from consideration for the position. CREDIT: SCREENSHOT/SENATE EPW COMMITTEE

Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, withdrew his name from consideration late Wednesday, after key senators made it clear he could not win confirmation.

Environmental and public health advocates welcomed the news. But they also called on Dourson to step down from his current post as adviser to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a position he accepted in October after leaving his post at the University of Cincinnati. Government ethics experts and watchdog groups contend he should not have been working at the EPA while he was going through the Senate confirmation process.

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Dourson, who worked for the EPA as a staff scientist earlier in his career, drew criticism for his long-time work as a consultant for chemical companies. Several Republicans hesitated to support Dourson, including the two Republican senators from North Carolina, who raised concerns about contaminated water at the Camp Lejeune military base.

Richard Denison, lead senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, called Dourson’s withdrawal from consideration “good news for the health of American families.” From the beginning of the confirmation process, it was clear that Dourson was a “dangerous choice” to lead the EPA’s chemical safety office, he said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

“His record of mercenary science made clear he would have undermined public health and damaged the historic chemical safety reforms passed by Congress last year,” Denison said.

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If Dourson hadn’t withdrawn his nomination, a vote against him would have represented the first time the Senate rejected a Trump nominee and would have marked a significant political defeat for the administration, the Washington Post reported.

In 1994, Dourson founded the Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, a group that has produced reports minimizing concerns about the safety of chemicals produced by companies like DuPont, Dow, and Boeing. As head of the EPA’s chemical and pesticides office, he would have overseen the agency’s regulation of industrial chemicals and pesticides — the same products manufactured by companies that funded much of Dourson’s private-sector work.

Dourson has spent his career downplaying the health risks of toxic chemicals to children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable communities, according to Madeleine Foote, legislative representative for the League of Conservation Voters. “This is a victory for our communities over industry special interests, and we expect Dourson to completely resign all posts at the agency,” she said in a statement Wednesday.

It’s unclear whether Dourson will stay on at the agency now that he has withdrawn his name from consideration. E&E News first reported in October that Dourson was already working at EPA as a senior adviser to Pruitt, a position that did not require him to go through Senate confirmation.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that Dourson’s removal from serving in his current non-confirmed position at EPA would be in the best interest of all Americans. “Dr. Dourson, an individual who has spent most of his career promoting less protective chemical safety standards, had no business overseeing our nation’s chemical safety laws,” Carper said.

Even after he learned he was to be nominated for the EPA job overseeing toxic chemicals, Dourson was communicating with the American Chemistry Council, the lead chemical industry trade group, related to research he was doing on TCE, a toxic chemical the Obama EPA proposed to be banned, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

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Following Dourson’s withdrawal from consideration, the Senate should now provide the same amount of scrutiny to Trump’s other “disastrous nominees” so that “the health of the American people is not sacrificed to the Trump administration’s brazen pandering to the most dangerous industries in the country,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement Wednesday.

Along these same lines, Steve Benen, an MSNBC contributor, wrote Thursday morning, “Can someone in the Trump White House explain how and why Dourson was nominated for this position in the first place?”

As for other controversial picks, Trump’s nominee to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality represents another bizarre choice. The CEQ, formed in 1970, coordinates environmental policy at the White House and plays a central role in the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The nominee, Kathleen Hartnett White, has made a career out of questioning the scientific consensus that human activities are the major driver of catastrophic climate change. She has described efforts to combat climate change as primarily an attack on the fossil fuel industry. White currently works as a senior fellow and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the fossil-fuel funded Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Her views are so out of the mainstream, it’s almost as if she falls in kind of a flat earth category,” Christy Goldfuss, who served as managing director of the CEQ under President Barack Obama and now works as vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress, said in a previous interview. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within the Center for American Progress.)