Sworn Enemies of EPA Now Just One Step from Heading Key Agency Offices
By Jessica Corbett
The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday advanced the nominations of four potential assistant administrators for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), raising concerns among conservationists and Democratic lawmakers who worry the candidates' connections to various industries will further endanger regulations that have been in under attack since Trump appointee Scott Pruitt took over as the agency's administrator.
The four EPA nominees whose fate could soon be decided by a full senate vote are:
- William "Bill" Wehrum, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Regulation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
- Michael Dourson, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the EPA;
- Matthew Leopold, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of General Counsel at the EPA; and
- David Ross, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of Water at the EPA.
While Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the committee chairman, introduced the candidates as "well-qualified, experienced, and dedicated public servants," declaring "their confirmation will fill critically important roles in ensuring that all Americans benefit from clean air, clean water, and clean land," conservationists and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee's ranking Democrat, expressed concerns about the nominees' ties to industry.
"All four of these nominees, especially Bill Wehrum and Michael Dourson, would accelerate Scott Pruitt's mission to dismantle the EPA from the inside," said League of Conservation Voters vice president for government affairs Sara Chieffo. "Far from draining the swamp, these industry insiders are entirely unfit to serve and pose a grave threat to our communities and our health."
"All four have condemned the very existence of the EPA and want to weaken it beyond recognition, threatening the EPA's mission to protect our clean air and water," Chieffo added. "We call on the Senate to reject their nominations."
Although Leopold and Ross have been criticized, Wehrum and Dourson have garnered the most negative attention.
Carper told Reuters Wehrum and Dourson's nominations were of "grave concern," and called Dourson "one of the most troubling nominees I have ever considered during my time on this committee." Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Dourson was "so far out of the scientific mainstream, it is outrageous."
"We've done the wrong thing," Carper said after the committee voted along party lines to approve both men. "I have never been this troubled on this committee, or any committee, in 17 years."
Wehrum, an attorney, was nominated for this same position in 2006, but his name was withdrawn over concerns about his industry connections. He "has represented several industry groups and corporations, including the American Petroleum Institute and Kinder Morgan, in fights against clean air and other health protections," reported The Intercept's Sharon Lerner.
During a committee hearing earlier this month, Wehrum reportedly said "I believe that's an open question," when asked whether he believed "with high confidence that human activities [are] the main driver of climate change." If confirmed, Wehrum would oversee various regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Lerner describes Dourson, who would hold influence over the agency's chemical policy, as "a massively conflicted scientist known within industry for his ability to come up with standards companies liked, create science to justify them, and then 'sell' the package to the EPA." Critics of Dourson worry that his appointment will interfere with update to a major chemical safety law that was updated last year.
"If approved by the full Senate, Dourson will oversee the implementation of the updated law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, though he has been paid by manufacturers and other interested parties to work on 20 of the chemicals that may come before him as part of its implementation," Lerner wrote. "When asked during his confirmation hearing whether he would recuse himself from making decisions about these chemicals earlier this month, Dourson refused."
The Senate committee's ten Democrats sent a letter to Dourson on Tuesday, pointing out that while his assistant administrator position is pending, he has been appointed to serve as an adviser to Pruitt, which they wrote, "creates the appearance, and perhaps the effect, of circumventing the Senate's constitutional advice and consent responsibility" regarding the position to which he has been nominated.
"It has been widely reported that Nancy Beck, previously of the American Chemistry Council, has been working behind the scenes to undermine the protections Congress intended" when updating the toxic substances law last year, the senators noted, just days after the New York Times published a particularly damning piece about Beck's recent revisions to EPA rules.
Similarly, they wrote to Dourson, "Your prior association with the the tobacco industry and your extensive work for the American Chemistry Council and other chemical manufacturers led The New York Times to deem you a 'scientist for hire' and accordingly raises similar concerns."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
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