We generally believe presidents should have wide to appoint people who share their views to cabinet and other executive branch positions. Some nominees, however, are so far out of the mainstream or so unqualified that their nominations should be rejected.
Michael Dourson is one of those people. President Donald Trump has nominated Dourson, a chemical industry consultant, to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
Dourson isn’t just your run of the mill chemical company apologist. He built a career helping companies, like Exxon, Dow Chemical and Koch Industries, weaken and evade federal chemical safety laws. He previously did the same thing for tobacco companies. Oftentimes, his findings that chemicals were safe at very high levels were at odds with not only the recommendations of federal regulators but also the chemical companies themselves.
For example, he has argued that children are less sensitive to chemicals than adults. The scientific consensus is that children, particularly young children, are especially at risk from exposure to harmful chemicals and compounds.
This is precisely the wrong person to ensure Americans aren’t poisoned by chemicals and toxic pollution.
Fortunately, several Republican senators are speaking out. Last week, Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina said they would oppose Dourson’s nomination. The Republican senators expressed concerns that Dourson would downplay water contamination at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base, which has been linked to illnesses and deaths.
They also cite concerns about a chemical called GenX, which has been found in the Cape Fear River in Wilmington. The chemical maker, Dupont and Chemours, paid nearly $700 million to settle lawsuits over contamination from the chemical and its precursors, which are used in the manufacture of teflon, Gore-Tex and other coatings that repel oil and water.
Dourson, who was a consultant for Chemours and DuPont, argued that the chemical was safe, even though a panel of scientists convened by DuPont found a probable link with six illnesses: kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.
“If the head EPA chemical inspector sees nothing wrong with your children drinking these chemicals at extra-high levels, all bets are off,” the StarNews of Wilmington, North Carolina, wrote in an editorial opposing Dourson’s nomination.
Sen. Susan Collins has also expressed concerns about Dourson. “I have a lot of concerns about Mr. Dourson, and I have not yet made a final decision. But I certainly share the concerns that have been raised by Sen. Burr and Sen. Tillis,” she told reporters in a Senate hallway last week.
“I think it’s safe to say that I am leaning against him but I have not yet reached a final decision,” she added.
Sen. Angus King opposes the Dourson nomination.
Dourson would take over the chemical safety office as it prepares to implement the first update of the Toxic Substance Control Act. Members of Congress reached bipartisan agreement last year to provide the EPA more authority over a long list of chemicals while giving industry more certainty over their regulation.
One of the first chemicals to be reviewed, trichloroethylene (TCE), has been found in soil and groundwater in Ellsworth and Casco. Waste oil that was disposed of in the two communities has leaked into the surrounding soil. Dourson, at the behest of chemical industry clients, has argued to allow TCE levels 15 times higher than the EPA standard.
Dourson also worked to lessen restrictions on flame retardants, putting the health of firefighters at risk. Maine lawmakers overrode a veto from Gov. Paul LePage earlier this year to prohibit the sale of new furniture containing flame-retardant chemicals.
The job of keeping Americans safe from toxic chemicals and pollution cannot be undermined by someone who made a career of downplaying the risks of toxic chemicals. Therefore, the Senate must reject Dourson’s nomination.