Dourson and Wehrum Should Be Rejected by Senate

Bald Eagle by Robert Palmer
Bald Eagles have recovered in large part due to EPA regulation of chemicals. Photo by Robert Palmer.

The Administration has put forth two nominees for important Environmental Protection Agency posts who have long and disturbing records of seeking to undermine the strong protections against dangerous chemicals and dirty air which pose threats to people and wildlife.  While the National Wildlife Federation has a long history of  backing qualified appointees from both parties, after examining their records, NWF has concluded that Micheal L. Dourson, nominated to head the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, and William Wehrum, nominated to head the Office of Air and Radiation should not be confirmed by the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

Since its inception, the EPA has been pivotal in keeping our air clean, our rivers fishable, our water drinkable, and the products we buy safe for use.  Some of EPA’s greatest successes have involved safeguarding people and the environment from the heartbreaking consequences of toxic chemicals, and cleaning up polluted air that was choking many parts of the country.  Indeed, EPA’s 1972 banning of the toxic pesticide DDT is a landmark event in the recovery of iconic wildlife such as the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.

Michael Dourson’s Troubling Record

Children’s health and pollinators could be put at risk with lax oversight of chemicals and pesticides. Photo courtesy NYC PS 146.

Mr. Dourson has, since 1995, had clear and close connections to the chemical industry.  In various consulting roles, Mr. Dourson has shown a dangerous willingness to expose people and wildlife to risks other experts find wholly unacceptable.  Here are few examples:

  • Dourson’s firm has promoted allowing levels of 1,4-Dioxane, a flammable liquid used for antifreeze and de-icing fluid that can also be found in shampoos and cosmetics, at 1000 times what EPA has considered safe. EPA has concluded 1,4-Dioxane is likely to cause cancer and may cause kidney and liver damage.

  • In industry research, Mr. Dourson’s firm recommended safe levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos at 33 times higher than EPA scientists recommended. EPA then lowered its standard to a level 6,000 times less than Mr. Dourson’s recommended standard before EPA experts concluded it should be banned outright.  Administrator Pruitt has ignored the recommendation of EPA’s scientists to ban this chemical that has been linked to cancer,  birth defects, and other serious health problems particularly among the children and farm workers in  rural areas that are exposed to this chemical.

  • Working for the state of West Virginia, Mr. Dourson helped craft a standard for PFOAs, which have been linked to cancer and thyroid disease and have turned up in drinking water in many communities across the nation, that were 150 times higher than levels the chemical company DuPont recommended as safe and more than 2,000 times higher EPA advised were safe.

These are only a few of the examples in a long career of putting industry interests over those of human and environmental health.

Equally concerning, in 2016, Congress passed a long needed, bi-partisan overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act.  If implemented properly, this effort will result in stronger, more transparent protections for people and wildlife from potentially harmful chemicals.  Given Mr.  Dourson’s record, it is highly unlikely he will execute this new law in a protective manner.  We should not jeopardize this chance to realize meaningful gains in safeguarding people and wildlife from harm from toxic substances.

William Wehrum: A Record of Sidestepping Clean Air Protections

Loons are threatened by air pollution like mercury from power plants. Photo by Joyce Kleven/NWF Photo Contest.

William Wehrum, a lawyer, is also not the right person for the job of protecting clean air, just like he wasn’t the first time he was nominated.  Mr. Wehrum was put forth to the office of air and radiation in 2006, but his nomination was withdrawn because his record indicated he would not protect people and wildlife from air pollution.  In particular, he was behind legal efforts at EPA designed to escape clear Congressional mandates.  Many of these efforts failed spectacularly in court fights where some of Mr. Wehrum’s logical reasoning were compared to Alice in Wonderland.  Mr. Wehrum’s was behind efforts to delay standards to protect fish, wildlife, and  people from mercury pollution from power plants, and the argument that harmful greenhouse gases aren’t a pollutant.

As head of the office of air and radiation, Mr. Wehrum will be charged with protecting our air and our climate.  His record fails to indicate that he is committed to carrying out these duties.  Mr. Wehrum’s views seem more consistent with troubling and illegal rollbacks of basic clean air protections proposed by Administrator Pruitt.  Wildlife and people cannot afford dirtier air and a less safe and stable climate.

Wildlife and those that enjoy the outdoors expect appointees committed to the EPA’s most basic duties – keeping our rivers clean, our water drinkable, our wildlife thriving, our air safe to breath, and our health intact.  Nominees Michael Dourson and William Wehrum do not have records that demonstrate this basic commitment.  NWF urges the Senate to reject these two nominees.