Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is scheduled to give a speech next week at the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) annual board meeting, an event where he is expected to receive a warm reception from chemical company executives.
Pruitt plans to bring eight EPA staffers to the November 9 event, including his chief of staff and a senior adviser on state and regional affairs, the Washington Post reported Thursday. The ACC, the primary trade and lobbying group for the chemical industry, is holding the board meeting at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, a luxury hotel and resort near Charleston, South Carolina.
The trip to South Carolina “is part of Administrator Pruitt’s ‘back-to-basics’ tour as he continues to meet with as many stakeholders as possible,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement sent to the Post. Since taking over as EPA administrator in February, Pruitt has met almost exclusively with representatives from chemical companies and other industries that the agency is mandated to regulate.
“He’ll get a warm reception. After all, until Scott Pruitt came along, chemical companies held the worst reputation for environmental integrity in America,” Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook said in a statement about Pruitt’s attendance at the ACC board meeting. (The EWG is a nonprofit group that advocates for protecting human health and the environment.)
Aside from meeting with chemical companies, Pruitt has hired chemical industry representatives to fill top positions at the agency, including former ACC official Nancy Beck, who has a long history of defending toxic chemicals. Pruitt also installed Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, as a senior adviser, E&E News reported — even before the Senate voted to confirm Dourson in that role.
Trump nominated Dourson, a University of Cincinnati environmental health professor, to head the division of the EPA responsible for chemical safety and for enforcing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s primary chemicals management law. Dourson also runs an organization called Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, which has produced reports minimizing concerns about the safety of chemicals produced by companies like DuPont, Dow, and Boeing.
“No one in the environmental community will forgive Pruitt for what he’s doing. And we will never forget the companies that used his disgraceful tenure to turn back the clock on chemical safety and environmental regulation,” Cook said.
Richard Denison, lead senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said his group is concerned with how deep into the EPA the chemical industry has “infiltrated.”
“Nancy Beck, fresh from ACC, and Michael Dourson, a frequent consultant to ACC, are in highly influential positions,” Denison told ThinkProgress.
The ACC successfully petitioned the EPA to implement a two-year delay for the effective date of an Obama-era rule that would have tightened safety requirements for companies that store large quantities of dangerous chemicals, such as those stored at the Arkema Inc. chemical plant near Houston that was damaged by Hurricane Harvey and exploded, injuring several first responders. The EPA rule — the Risk Management Plan amendments — would have required chemical plants to make public the types and quantities of chemicals stored onsite. The rule was developed after a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded in 2013, killing 15 people.
Mathy Stanislaus, a former EPA assistant administrator who helped draft the rule for the Obama administration, told the Associated Press that the rule, if it had not been delayed, could have greatly reduced the risk to police officers and paramedics who responded to the explosion at the Arkema plant.
In 2016, Congress overhauled TSCA for the first time in decades, requiring the EPA to conduct comprehensive risk evaluations of chemicals without regard to cost, and with special attention to the risks posed to vulnerable populations. In its implementation of the law, however, the Trump administration issued dramatically weakened rules governing how the agency assesses the safety of a chemical.
Public health and environmental advocates charge that EPA is no longer testing new chemicals as required by the law and that his appointees are rewriting the rules for how the law will be implemented going forward.
Earlier in his tenure, Pruitt met with Cal Dooley, president and CEO of ACC, and several other officials from the group at EPA headquarters on May 10, the Washington Post reported. The topic listed on the calendar for the meeting was, “Importance of EPA to the antimicrobial and chemical industry and the need for greater transparency and opportunities for stakeholder engagement.”
On May 15, Pruitt also met with Mark Vergnano, president and CEO of leading chemical company Chemours. On the same day, the EPA administrator met with officials from the National Association of Chemical Distributors to discuss TSCA and other related issues. And on May 20, he toured Brainerd Chemical in Oklahoma, a major provider and distributor of chemicals for research facilities, industrial plants, and agricultural operations, according to the Post.
“The industry’s heavy influence is already visible in virtually every decision being made,” Denison said, “from Pruitt overruling EPA scientists on chlorpyrifos, to Beck’s wholesale rewrite of the rules that will determine how the new chemical safety law is implemented for years to come, to the industry’s ability to get the EPA to reverse course on its reviews of new chemicals, to apparent decisions by EPA to delay or abandon its first attempts in 28 years to ban high-risk uses of dangerous chemicals under TSCA.”
On Tuesday, in an unprecedented move, Pruitt announced that no scientists who had received EPA funding would be eligible to serve on the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), which provides scientific and technical expertise regarding environmental regulations. The EPA administrator on Friday released a list of people he plans to appoint to the SAB. The list contains names of officials from energy and chemical companies, including Sue Marty, toxicology science director at Dow Chemical Company, and Kimberly White, senior director of the ACC’s Chemical Products and Technology Department.
In her role at the ACC, White has challenged studies that show a link between formaldehyde exposure and leukemia. Earlier this year, White submitted testimony to the House Science Committee criticizing the processes used by the EPA to evaluate and assess how chemicals interact with the human body and the environment.