Trump nominates Dow Chemical official to lead emergency response to toxic spills

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President Donald Trump nominated a top official with Dow Chemical Co. to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) unit that oversees chemical spills from Superfund sites. Dow Chemical is linked to more than a hundred of these 1,340 toxic clean-up sites across the nation.

If confirmed by the Senate, Peter Wright, an attorney for Dow Chemical, would serve as assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM). At Dow Chemical, Wright currently works as managing counsel for environmental health and safety. Earlier in his career, Wright had jobs at several law firms as well as the agriculture giant Monsanto.

Wright has provided legal support for Superfund and other remediation sites in his tenure at Dow Chemical. “He has the expertise and experience necessary to implement our ambitious goals for cleaning up the nation’s contaminated lands quickly and thoroughly,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said Friday in a statement.

Pruitt has made the Superfund program one of his top priorities as head of the EPA. But the program’s budget has come under attack by the Trump administration.

As head of OLEM, Wright would oversee the development of guidelines for the land disposal of hazardous waste and underground storage tanks and respond to accidental chemical releases through the Superfund program. Wright’s work with Dow Chemical could force him to recuse himself from the company’s dozens of Superfund cases at the EPA.

Wright’s nomination is part of a trend by the Trump administration to nominate industry officials to serve in regulatory agencies that oversee the operations of their previous employers.

Michael Dourson, Trump’s nominee to head the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, withdrew his name from consideration in December after key senators made it clear he could not win confirmation. Dourson’s previous corporate clients had included numerous chemical companies, including Dow Chemical.

Another major figure at the EPA who makes decisions on Superfund issues also has potential conflicts of interest. Last year, Pruitt appointed Albert Kelly — who was banned from the banking industry for life for violating federal banking laws — to advise him on the Superfund program. Kelly has reported ownership of less than $15,000 worth of stock in Phillips 66, which has potential Superfund liability at 31 sites around the country, according to E&E News.

The EPA deemed Phillips 66 responsible for contaminating Bayou Verdine in 2010, which is located in the Calcasieu estuary in Lake Charles, Louisiana. And more recently, in 2016 Phillips 66 was among a group of companies forced to pay to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund site — a process which is expected to take 30 years.

As of December 31, 2017, Dow Chemical had amassed obligations — costs that the company is responsible for paying — totaling $152 million for the remediation of Superfund sites, according to a Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on February 15. Companies are responsible for cleaning up toxic sites where they caused pollution. Dow Chemical was liable for remediation of 131 Superfund sites at the end of 2017, the company said in the SEC filing.

Among its Superfund obligations, Dow Chemical is responsible for a chemical plant in Midland, Michigan, that released dioxins into the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers, and Del Amo, a former synthetic rubber production plant in Los Angeles.

The EPA attracted criticism last year after Pruitt announced the agency would decline to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a chemical that EPA scientists and the American Academy of Pediatrics wanted to ban because of the risk it said it posed to children and farm workers. Chlorpyrifos is produced by a variety of manufacturers, including a subsidiary of Dow Chemical.