Senate EPW panel approves controversial EPA picks, Dem for NRC

Source: Corbin Hiar, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this morning approved four of President Trump’s top U.S. EPA picks, including the controversial nominations of Michael Dourson to lead the chemicals program and Bill Wehrum for air chief.

The bids of Dourson and Wehrum passed on party-line 11-10 votes. The other EPA nominations — Matthew Leopold for general counsel and David Ross for water chief — were sent to the Senate floor by a voice vote.

The committee packaged Leopold and Ross with Paul Trombino, Trump’s pick to serve as head of Federal Highway Administration, and Jeff Baran, a Democratic member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who is up for another term.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt celebrated the results of today’s EPW Committee meeting. “These top leaders in their fields will bring positive change to EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to a full Senate vote on these highly-qualified leaders.”

Before the votes, Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) described all but Baran as “well-qualified” and “dedicated public servants” and urged his colleagues to support them.

Dourson’s nomination advanced despite passionate opposition from Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the committee.

Carper called Dourson, who spent two decades at the helm of a nonprofit firm that often downplayed the risks of chemicals for industry clients, “one of the most troubling nominees I have ever considered during my 17 years on this committee.”

Carper said his nomination “to lead EPA’s chemical safety office and implement [Toxic Substances Control Act] reform makes a mockery of that entire process of which we were so proud.”

The ranking member was particularly troubled by the revelation, first reported by E&E News, that Dourson left the University of Cincinnati after his confirmation hearing to take a job advising Pruitt (E&E Daily, Oct. 18).

That news “further underscored that we’d be foolish to expect any straight answers from this nominee,” Carper said before calling on his Republican colleagues to “join me in rejecting this nomination.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) also slammed Dourson’s record. Cardin warned that passing him along party lines would undercut the compromises necessary to pass TSCA reform and would make Democrats less likely to work across the aisle in the future.


After Dourson, the EPW Committee moved on to Wehrum, who is currently a partner and head of the administrative law group at the law firm Hunton & Williams LLP.

Wehrum spent six years at the EPA air office during the George W. Bush administration, serving from 2001 to 2007, first as counsel and then as acting chief.

Wehrum quit after Democrats, who controlled the Senate during part of that time, blocked his bid to get the top job permanently from getting out of committee.

This time around, Democrats and environmental groups renewed their objections to Wehrum’s fitness for the job, charging that he had worked to weaken air quality standards as a corporate attorney.

But the only real peril to his winning the panel’s approval came from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who had threatened to vote against him unless Pruitt committed to specific steps in support of the renewable fuel standard. After Pruitt signed off on a deal last week, Ernst supported Wehrum’s nomination this morning.

Barrasso allowed Democrats to sound off on the nominees after the voting was done. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) began his remarks by slamming Barrasso’s decision to delay the minority’s remarks.

“It’s a very different thing to be allowed to speak after a vote is taken than to have the opportunity to try to convince your colleagues before the vote is taken,” Whitehouse said. “And it’s a signal to me that this process is simply not on the up and up.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who had placed a symbolic hold on the nominations of Dourson and Wehrum last week, used her remarks to question the legal validity of Pruitt’s renewable fuel commitments and said the committee should have delayed action until a rulemaking on the issue is complete.

“There was simply no need to risk devastating communities throughout the Midwest by rushing Mr. Wehrum’s nomination,” Duckworth said, referring to corn-producing areas that depend on biofuel manufacturing.


Barrasso told E&E News afterward he didn’t expect any of the nominees who’d just cleared committee to get a floor vote in the near future.

“It seems like there is quite a bit of backlog because the Democrats have been opposing so many of the Republican nominees,” he said. “They continue to make us file cloture and wait the 30 hours. I’d like to get these moved more quickly.”

Carper told E&E News that he would continue to oppose advancing EPA nominees until the agency improves its responsiveness to the minority’s oversight requests. And during the markup, the Democrat specifically vowed to keep trying to block Dourson.

Susan Bodine, a former committee staffer nominated for EPA compliance chief, is waiting for a vote by the full Senate but is also already at the agency.

She offered a detailed response to questions from Whitehouse and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) about her current role. The senators released those answers during today’s meeting.

“I think most of us would support her nomination on the floor,” Carper said, speaking for Democrats. “We’ll do so when we receive timely response to questions that Sen. Ernst and others have received with respect to Wehrum and the renewable fuels standard. We’d like to have equal treatment under the law. That’s not asking too much.”

Reporters Sean Reilly and Sam Mintz contributed.