Trump's Pick for Top EPA Post Under Scrutiny for Deep Ties to Chemical Industry
The latest is Michael L. Dourson, Trump's pick to head the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the government's chemical safety program. Media reports reveal that the toxicologist is under intense scrutiny for his extensive ties to the chemical industry and a resumé dotted with some of the biggest names in the field: Koch Industries Inc., Chevron Corp., Dow AgroSciences, DuPont and Monsanto.
After working as a staff toxicologist for the EPA from 1980 to 1994, Dourson founded and ran the Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), a nonprofit research group that has been paid by chemical corporations to research and write reports that downplay the health risks posed by their products, the New York Times reports. TERA has since been renamed as the Risk Science Center at the University of Cincinnati, where Dourson is a professor.
According to the Associated Press, Dourson's research has been "underwritten by industry trade and lobbying groups representing the makers of plastics, pesticides, processed foods and cigarettes."
Dourson's Senate confirmation hearing was originally set for Wednesday but has been postponed to a date that has not yet been announced. If confirmed, Dourson would be in charge of regulating chemicals produced by "his old industry friends," critics have warned.
Notably, Dourson and TERA was contracted by Dow AgroSciences, the maker of chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic pesticide that has been shown to harm children's brains at even very low exposure levels. Dourson and his researchers argued in three papers that there were flaws in peer-reviewed studies that linked delays in fetal development from chlorpyrifos exposure, the AP reports.
Dourson was also the lead author of a
report funded by Koch Industries that concluded that human exposures to petroleum coke and coal "if any, are well below levels that could be anticipated to produce adverse health effects in the general population."
Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works panel that will evaluate Dourson's qualifications was alarmed by Trump's choice.
"Dr. Dourson's consistent endorsement of chemical safety standards that not only match industry's views, but are also significantly less protective than E.P.A. and other regulators have recommended, raises serious doubts about his ability to lead those efforts," Carper told the Times. "This is the first time anyone with such clear and extensive ties to the chemical industry has been picked to regulate that industry."
- After the 2014 chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia, the state hired Dourson's company, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), to convene and manage a health effects expert panel. TERA then appointed Dourson to chair the panel and act as its only spokesperson. The panel's report failed to disclose that Dourson and TERA had done paid work for both of the companies that produced the chemicals involved in the spill. These conflicts only came to light upon questioning of Dourson by a reporter at the panel's news conference.
- Dourson and TERA have done extensive work on behalf of the so-called Perchlorate Study Group (PSG), which is actually comprised of producers and users of perchlorate. The work was aimed at reducing the stringency of federal standards. Dourson, who is on EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB), was asked to recuse himself from the Board's 2013 meeting to review EPA's work to develop a drinking water standard for perchlorate. Immediately upon doing so, Dourson provided "public" comments to the Board based on the work he had done for PSG.
- In 2012, Dourson and TERA, with funding from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), set up and ran a website called "Kids + Chemical Safety." (This website is now inactive and TERA itself has been migrated to be a center at the University of Cincinnati.) The site was designed to look like a neutral source of advice for parents concerned about chemical safety, but instead mirrored industry talking points about its chemicals and sought to shift responsibility for ensuring safety to the consumer or parent and away from the industry.
"It is not even subtle," Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts University professor who studies ethics in science and medicine and has reviewed Dourson's work, told the AP. "He has chosen to be the voice of the chemical industry. His role as a scientist is simply the role of an industry-hired lawyer—only to give the best case for their client."
Unsurprisingly, the chemical industry and trade associations have cheered the choice.
"His knowledge, experience and leadership will strengthen EPA's processes for evaluating and incorporating high quality science into regulatory decision making," said Jon Corley, the American Chemistry Council's spokesman.
CropLife America—the main trade and lobbying group for the pesticide industry—called Dourson "a perfect fit."
"We welcome Dr. Dourson's nomination," CropLife America said on its website. "His extensive experience in risk assessment and science, both in government and private sector make him a valuable addition to the office."
By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.
How Did Cyanobacteria Poison the Elephants?<p>Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms common in water and sometimes found in soil. Some cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins.</p><p>The cyanobacteria "was growing in pans" or watering holes, the principal veterinary officer of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Mmadi Reuben, told reporters.</p><p>Reuben said the deaths had "stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of pans."</p><p>"However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only? We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating," added Reuben.</p><p>Similar elephant deaths have also been recorded in neighboring Zimbabwe.</p>
Climate Change to Blame?<p>Not all cyanobacteria are toxic but scientists say varieties dangerous to humans and animals are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.</p><p>Southern Africa's temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p>
Elephant Paradise?<p>Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching. But Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.</p><p>Botswana's government said it was continuing studies into the occurrence of the deadly bacteria. In the winter, elephants hydrate themselves mainly by eating roots and bark, especially of the baobab tree.</p>
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