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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
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By Julia Vergin
It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.
EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.
Climate models are predicting faster warming of the North Atlantic Ocean, which will shift the Gulf Stream. NASA
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By Jessica Corbett
As a United Nations agency released new climate projections showing that the world is on track in the next five years to hit or surpass a key limit of the Paris agreement, authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years.
<div id="1a097" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3be1f37aee62477983e577219c84d7a9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281182404116385792" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">https://t.co/3sNdmN8mCz New study covered by @guardiannews, we look at CO2 levels in the Late Pliocene (~3 million… https://t.co/xRhhLcpdJ5</div> — Tom Chalk (@Tom Chalk)<a href="https://twitter.com/ChalkyOceans/statuses/1281182404116385792">1594292663.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="23d44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a800573625ce69a53bedfe537b572116"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281123005695959040" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Annual mean global temperature likely to be at least 1° C above pre-industrial levels in each of coming 5 years (20… https://t.co/WOBeEOhbCe</div> — World Meteorological Organization (@World Meteorological Organization)<a href="https://twitter.com/WMO/statuses/1281123005695959040">1594278501.0</a></blockquote></div>
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