EPA Nominees sound off on climate, chemicals; Dems disappointed

Source: Corbin Hiar and Sean Reilly, E&E News reporters • Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday slammed four high-profile U.S. EPA nominees for revealing too little about how they’d approach their new jobs.

“These were not difficult questions,” Sen. Tom Carper said of the written queries he sent the candidates after their contentious confirmation hearing earlier this month.

The Delaware Democrat released the responses ahead of the committee’s meeting tomorrow to vote on the picks, including Michael Dourson to head up the agency’s chemicals office, Bill Wehrum for air chief, Matt Leopold for general counsel and David Ross to lead the water office.

Carper was particularly troubled by responses from Dourson, who has taught at the University of Cincinnati and led an industry-friendly toxicology nonprofit (E&E Daily, Oct. 5).

“An individual seeking to become our nation’s top chemical safety regulator should easily be able to answer how EPA should protect the most vulnerable among us from exposures to chemicals or the important new chemical safety law he would be charged with implementing,” Carper said.

“Dr. Dourson didn’t provide substantive responses to most of my questions about both of those key issues,” he said.

The committee’s ranking member was referring to asking Dourson whether he would commit to using a tenfold safety factor to account for the added risks some carcinogenic chemicals pose to pregnant women, developing children and other vulnerable populations.

Dourson would only promise to use “the best available science in considering any regulatory actions that come to me for decision making.”

The nominee for assistant administrator of chemical safety and pollution prevention also offered the same one-sentence response to 14 specific questions about implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act overhaul that was enacted last year.

“If confirmed I will commit to thorough review of the final statute and would be happy to meet with the committee to further discuss any outstanding concerns,” said Dourson.


Carper was also upset by responses he received from Wehrum, who is up for agency assistant administrator of air and radiation.

The Democrat said the nominee “similarly dismissed my straightforward questions on ozone, mercury emissions and greenhouse gases — some of the most serious threats to clean air.”

Wehrum, currently head of the administrative law group at the firm Hunton & Williams LLP, wrote that he believed “the climate is changing and that anthropogenic emissions contribute to the change.”

Wehrum also endorsed Administrator Scott Pruitt’s view — expressed in Pruitt’s own confirmation hearing early this year — that EPA has “obligations” to address carbon dioxide issues.

That’s because of the agency’s 2009 endangerment finding and the Supreme Court’s earlier decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which found EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Pressed for specifics, however, Wehrum repeatedly punted. Asked, for example, whether he agreed with President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, Wehrum replied that Trump is the boss.

“I believe it was within his authority to withdraw,” he wrote. “I respect his decision.”

On more concrete policy questions, such as repeal of the Clean Power Plan, he said that “if confirmed, my primary responsibility will be to faithfully implement the Clean Air Act, including authorities and restrictions applicable to greenhouse gases.”

Wehrum also stopped short of outlining steps he might take to confront the thorny issue of ozone-forming emissions that originate in one state and then contribute to downwind compliance problems in other states.

While acknowledging that inhaling “too much ozone” can cause a wide array of cardiovascular problems, Wehrum went no further than alluding to Clean Air Act provisions intended to address what is technically known as “interstate transport.”

Under President George W. Bush, Wehrum served as acting head of the Office of Air and Radiation from 2005 to 2007 but was unable to win Senate confirmation in the face of Democratic opposition.

In private practice, he has since represented the American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups challenging various EPA air quality regulations.

If confirmed in this go-around, Wehrum has said he would not participate in matters involving former clients for a year after last providing a service.

Asked whether he would meet privately with ex-clients to discuss regulations that he had previously sought to weaken or repeal, Wehrum said he would work closely with EPA ethics officials “to understand and strictly comply with my ethical obligations.”

Leopold, Ross

Like Trump’s other EPA nominees, Leopold, who is up for EPA general counsel, and Ross, being considered for water chief, didn’t disclose much in their written responses to Carper’s questions.

Leopold again touted his service at the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, calling it “the nation’s environmental law firm,” but said he could not “prejudge” how EPA’s proposal to cut $20 million in funds it sends DOJ will affect the division’s work.

In his written responses, Ross emphasized collaborating with states on everything from cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay to preventing future crises like the lead contamination of Flint, Mich.’s drinking water.

He also said that he does not have “any pre-determined views” on whether certain sectors of the economy are overly regulated by the Clean Water Act.

Lawmakers asked Leopold and Ross about the Trump administration’s process in rolling back the Clean Water Rule, in which EPA political appointees reportedly verbally directed career staff to delete benefits of the regulation. They replied that they support the “appropriate use of both written and oral guidance.”

All four EPA nominees took a similar tack on several oversight questions from Carper. Asked if they would shield their offices from political influence, the nominees uniformly promised to follow “all legal and ethical obligations.”

Quizzed about EPA’s anti-leak training for career employees and whether they can make “lawful disclosures” to Congress and others, the Trump picks said that, if confirmed, they would commit to protecting employee rights.

They also pledged to respond to the committee’s requests and release their calendars on a “timely basis” — rather than daily, as Carper had requested.

At their confirmation hearing, the ranking member told EPA picks that Democrats would oppose their nominations until the agency does a better job of responding to the minority’s oversight requests (Greenwire, Oct. 4).

Yesterday the president, speaking with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from the White House, called Democrats obstructionists for blocking or slowing his nominees.

Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.