Two Republican senators yesterday evening formally declared their opposition to Michael Dourson’s nomination to lead U.S. EPA’s chemicals program, leaving the toxicologist just one vote away from failing to win confirmation.
"I will not be supporting the nomination of Michael Dourson," North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr said in a statement. "With his record and our state’s history of contamination at Camp Lejeune as well as the current Gen X water issues in Wilmington, I am not confident he is the best choice for our country."
Earlier this year, Burr introduced S. 758, known as the "Janey Ensminger Act." The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), would expand health care for Camp Lejeune’s military veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals.
Tillis’ office also announced last night the senator would vote against the nomination of Dourson for assistant administrator of chemical safety and pollution prevention, which cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee last month on a party-line vote.
"Over the last several weeks, Senator Tillis has done his due diligence in reviewing Mr. Dourson’s body of work," the office said in a statement. "Senator Tillis still has serious concerns about his record and cannot support his nomination."
North Carolina is currently weathering a public health scare tied to high levels of an unregulated chemical known as GenX that has been found in the state’s waters (Greenwire, July 6).
Dourson, who ran a nonprofit toxicology firm before going into academia, often did industry-funded research on chemicals like GenX that consistently found them to be safer than government standards recommended.
The hard line Burr and Tillis are taking against Dourson was first reported by the Wilmington Star-News. But they had been publicly wavering on him for weeks. As a result, Rick Berman, a public affairs consultant known as "Dr. Evil," came to Dourson’s defense (Greenwire, Nov. 15).
With all 48 Democrats in the Senate expected to vote against the nomination, Republicans cannot confirm him if they lose any more senators.
Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has left the beleaguered nominee’s fate in the hands of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
"Sen. McConnell will have to decide the scheduling" on Dourson’s floor vote, he said at the Capitol this morning.
Meanwhile, Tillis expects the Trump administration to abandon Dourson and put forward another chemicals chief pick.
"I do know that we have a good queue of other nominees that the administration has considered," he told reporters. "So I expect us to have a nominee that we can support, moving quickly with the confidence of the administration."
While EPA declined to comment on the growing opposition to Dourson, a spokesman noted that the nominee’s former firm helped determine that a leaking septic system was poisoning a Kentucky family and its farm animals.
At his confirmation hearing, Dourson said the experience was "very gratifying, although honestly, dealing with the public one-on-one like that was not the most direct part of our pro bono" (E&E Daily, Oct. 5).
The EPA spokesman also provided a letter of support for Dourson from a lawyer he helped by providing expert testimony at a trial about trichloroethylene contamination in 130 California homes.
Reporters Kevin Bogardus, George Cahlink and Geof Koss contributed.