The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has hired a former chemical industry executive and a former car company executive who are serving as “special counsels” to Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, even though the pair has yet to be confirmed by the Senate to fill high-level positions at the agency.
In this key regard, Wheeler is following in the footsteps of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who surrounded himself with former officials from regulated industries, including a former consultant to the chemical industry who joined the agency before he had completed the Senate confirmation process.
In a July 6 email obtained by E&E News, Wheeler’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, said Peter Wright and Chad McIntosh were scheduled to begin work on Monday (July 9).
McIntosh, Ford Motor Co.’s former environmental policy chief, was picked to lead the EPA’s international and tribal affairs office. Wright, a former senior attorney at The Dow Chemical Company, now DowDuPont, would lead the office of land and emergency management, which oversees chemical plant safety rules and administers the federal Superfund program, responsible for cleaning up some of the country’s most contaminated industrial sites.
These two EPA offices are currently being led by career employees, The Hill reported Monday.
McIntosh and Wright have yet to be confirmed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW). During the Obama administration, the EPA brought nominees on board only after they had received permission from the Senate committee and were awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, E&E News reported.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement that he found the E&E News report troubling. Carper noted that he wrote to Wheeler last week, after he was promoted to acting administrator, urging him to restore the public’s trust in the EPA.
“To announce that EPA will bring on Mr. Wright and Mr. McIntosh on the day that Administrator Pruitt departs — without notifying the Environment and Public Works Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over the agency — not only breaks with past norms and precedents, but shows incredibly poor judgement, especially when we should be turning over a new leaf,” Carper said in the statement emailed to ThinkProgress.
In the wake of departure of the scandal-plagued Pruitt, Carper said this is the wrong time to be repeating the same “problematic behavior” exhibited by the EPA under Pruitt’s direction.
According to the EPA, Wright and McIntosh are on 12-month appointments that will allow them to receive direction and policy guidance from Wheeler. “Neither will be performing any duties that are reserved for the position for which they have been nominated,” EPA spokesperson John Konkus said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress on Tuesday.
The EPA said Wright’s and McIntosh’s positions align with the law and legal decisions regarding what candidates can do while their nominations are pending. In a separate statement, Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s principal deputy general counsel, said the agency “will ensure we are in compliance with the law at all times” regarding Wright and McIntosh’s work.
In 2017, Michael Dourson, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the EPA’s top chemicals regulator, joined the EPA as a senior adviser to Pruitt while awaiting Senate confirmation. In the case of Dourson, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had already approved — in a party-line vote — his nomination to head the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
Facing strong opposition in the Senate due to his controversial past as a consultant to the chemicals industry, however, Dourson withdrew his name from consideration in December 2017 after key senators made it clear he could not win confirmation. Dourson stayed on board as adviser to Pruitt before leaving the EPA in early 2018.
EPW held its confirmation hearing for Wright and McIntosh on June 20.
Wright, who worked on Dow’s Superfund cleanup program, has agreed to recuse himself from working on any Superfund sites that DowDuPont may be responsible for contaminating for at least two years. For DowDupont sites that he personally worked on, Wright agreed to a permanent recusal.
Dow and DuPont merged in August 2017. Together, they are responsible for the cleanup of nearly 200 Superfund sites, The Intercept reported in March.
Prior to working for Dow Chemical, Wright spent seven years at Monsanto, which is associated with at least 100 Superfund sites.
In March 2017, Pruitt met with Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris. Less than a month later, Pruitt announced his decision to deny a petition to ban Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on food even though a review by his agency’s scientists concluded that ingesting even minuscule amounts of the chemical can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants.
McIntosh, an attorney and engineer from Michigan, ran Ford’s environmental compliance and policy divisions from 1998 until he retired in 2017. Prior to joining Ford, he worked as deputy director for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality under Republican Gov. John Engler for seven years.
During his time at Ford, chemicals that had been spilled from a Ford manufacturing plant in Livonia, Michigan were breaking down into vinyl chloride and tainting the local groundwater, HuffPost reported in March. Exposure to vinyl chloride is linked to a rare form of liver cancer, brain and lung cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia.
Shawn Collins, an attorney representing homeowners in a community near the plant, told HuffPost that he faults McIntosh for the company’s failure to discover the contamination sooner. “You can’t ignore these kinds of toxic chemicals in such an enormous quantity on your property, so whoever was in charge of the environmental state of affairs at this plant did not do his job,” Collins said. “That’s McIntosh.”
Democrats on the EPW committee tried to get the nominees to say whether they believe the scientific consensus that climate change is primarily caused by humans. But the nominees said that humans play some role, declining to say they play the primary role.