- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Senate panel on Wednesday approved two controversial nominees for top jobs at the Environmental Protection Agency in highly contentious party-line votes, prompting Democrats to charge that whatever goodwill existed between the two sides is now gone.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sent the nominations of Michael Dourson and William Wehrum to the full Senate by 11-to-10 votes. Mr. Dourson is being considered to lead the EPA’s office of chemical safety and pollution prevention, while Mr. Wehrum has been tapped to head the office of air and radiation.

Critics say both nominees are wholly unqualified for their jobs. In the case of Mr. Dourson, who has come under heavy fire for his role in producing chemical industry-friendly research and now potentially regulating that very same industry, Democrats say the Trump administration has hit a new low.

“He is one of the most troubling nominees I’ve ever considered during my 17 years on this committee,” said Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat and his party’s ranking member on the committee. “Dr. Dourson’s record is clear. Dr. Dourson has essentially sold his science to the highest bidder … Can this be the best person the administration can find to entrust responsibilities for this leadership post? God, I hope not.”

Democrats also charged that their GOP counterparts are all but abandoning the bipartisanship seen last year when the two sides collaborated on an update to federal chemical rules.

They’ve also trained their fire on the fact that Mr. Dourson already is working with the EPA in an advisory role despite not being confirmed by the Senate. The agency has denied that there’s anything inappropriate about the arrangement, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Wednesday praised the committee for green-lighting his incoming deputies.

“I want to thank Chairman John Barrasso and members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for granting our nominees a fair hearing and approving their nominations,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement after the vote. “These top leaders in their fields will bring positive change to EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. We look forward to a full Senate vote on these highly qualified leaders.”

Mr. Wehrum previously has worked as an energy industry attorney, and Democrats argue he’ll use his power to further weaken air standards.

Mr. Wehrum also served at the EPA during the George W. Bush administration.

While all 10 Democrats on the committee also voted against Mr. Wehrum, he seems to be a less objectionable nominee than Mr. Dourson in the eyes of Democrats and environmentalists. Green groups quickly called on the full Senate to block Mr. Dourson when he ultimately comes up for a vote in the chamber.

“Just because President Trump insists on nominating someone so exceptionally unfit to serve as Mr. Dourson, doesn’t mean the Senate should throw their support behind him,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. “If the Senate confirms Dourson, he will almost certainly tear down barriers in place at EPA to protect the public from toxic chemicals and the diseases they trigger.”

Republicans offered little in the way of defense of either nominee before Wednesday’s vote. Only two Democrats, Mr. Carper and Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrat, spoke before the vote. Other lawmakers were permitted to speak only after voting had concluded.

“It’s a very different thing to be allowed to speak after a vote has been taken than to have the opportunity to try to convince your colleagues before the vote is taken,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, adding that the confirmation process for Mr. Dourson and Mr. Wehrum “is simply not on the up and up.”

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and committee chairman, contended that both nominees were fully qualified for the posts.

“These nominees have proven themselves to be well-qualified, experienced, and dedicated public servants,” he said. “Their confirmation will fill critically important roles in ensuring that all Americans benefit from clean air, clean water and clean land.”

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