WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to say whether President Donald Trump’s failed pick to oversee chemical safety will continue to work there as a senior adviser, a role that doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
Michael L. Dourson withdrew his nomination Wednesday to serve as head of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention amid bipartisan opposition in the Senate.
Dourson has been working at EPA for at least two months as a senior adviser to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, an arrangement Democrats have said could be illegal without Senate confirmation.
EPA did not respond Wednesday or Thursday to inquiries about Dourson’s current employment status at the agency.
The agency has also refused to disclose Dourson’s taxpayer-funded salary. Other senior advisers to Pruitt are paid more than $170,000 annually, according to records reviewed by AP.
In his letter asking the president to withdraw his name from consideration as an assistant administrator at EPA, which was obtained by The Associated Press, Dourson listed his job title as “Senior Adviser to the Administrator” and provides his epa.gov email address — which has not been listed in the agency’s employee directory.
“My stepping aside avoids unnecessarily politicizing the important environmental protection goals of Administrator Pruitt,” Dourson wrote in his letter, which was dated Wednesday. “I sincerely and deeply appreciate all the love and support by my family, friends and colleagues during this ‘surprising’ confirmation process.”
North Carolina’s two Republican senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, said last month they would vote against Dourson’s nomination after AP and other media outlets detailed his past work as a toxicologist hired to defend major chemical companies.
The Senate’s 48 Democrats were united in opposition, meaning only one more GOP defection would have been needed to defeat Dourson’s nomination.
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said his staunch objections to Dourson’s nomination were never a matter of partisanship.
“I sincerely believe he is the wrong person to hold this important position, and it’s become clear that, even with a Republican majority in the Senate, he could not be confirmed,” Carper said. “Dourson, an individual who has spent most of his career promoting less protective chemical safety standards, had no business overseeing our nation’s chemical safety laws.”
The AP reported in September that Dourson has for years accepted payments for criticizing studies that raised concerns about the safety of his clients’ products, according to a review of financial records and his published work.
Past corporate clients of Dourson and of a research group he ran include Dow Chemical Co., Koch Industries Inc. and Chevron Corp. His research has also been underwritten by industry trade and lobbying groups representing the makers of plastics, pesticides, processed foods and cigarettes.
Court records show Dourson and his work have also often been called on when his corporate clients are seeking to fend off lawsuits.
Burr and Tillis, both of whom are considered reliably pro-business conservatives, cited Dourson’s past work and worries among their home-state constituents about tainted drinking water in opposing his nomination.
Marine veterans and their families have blamed decades-old contamination of wells at a North Carolina base with solvents and dry-cleaning chemicals for infant deaths and serious health problems, including cancer.
More recently, concerns have been raised about undisclosed discharges of chemicals used to manufacture Teflon and GoreTex into the Cape Fear River, a source of municipal drinking water for Wilmington and other southeastern North Carolina communities.
Dourson worked at the EPA for more than a decade, leaving in 1994 as the manager at a lab that assessed the health risks of exposure to chemicals. The following year, he founded Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, a private, nonprofit organization that tests chemicals and produces reports on which chemicals are hazardous in what quantities.
Dourson’s views toward industry are consistent with others Trump has selected as top federal regulators. Among them is Pruitt, who in March overruled the findings of his agency’s own scientists to reverse an effort to ban chlorpyrifos, one of the nation’s most widely used pesticides.