(In Oct 25 item, corrects third paragraph to say Dourson is a former professor at the University of Cincinnati)
By Timothy Gardner and Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, Oct 25 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate environment panel on Wednesday approved four nominees to top posts at the Environmental Protection Agency, including the pick to head the agency’s office of chemical safety who has drawn criticism for his ties to the chemical industry.
Senator Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the committee, said two of the nominees were of “grave concern” - Michael Dourson to lead the chemical safety and pollution prevention office, and Bill Wehrum for assistant administrator for the air office. They were approved 11-10 in a vote along party lines.
Carper called Dourson, a former professor at the University of Cincinnati who has worked as a consultant for chemical companies, “one of the most troubling nominees I have ever considered during my time on this committee.”
Dourson, while a consultant, had assessed some chemicals, including PFOA, used to make Teflon non-stick surfaces, to be safe at levels far higher than considered acceptable by the EPA.
Wehrum, a lawyer who has represented energy companies facing clean-air regulations, served in the EPA air office under former Republican President George W. Bush.
Senator James Inhofe from oil-producing Oklahoma, a senior Republican on the panel, praised the vote and urged the full Senate to quickly confirm the nominees so they could “improve public health within the scope of the EPA’s authority.”
Republicans say the EPA under former Democratic President Barack Obama overstepped its authority to regulate.
Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s EPA administrator, has worked to do away with regulations pushed through by the Obama administration, and has proposed scrapping the Clean Power Plan that sought to curb emissions linked to climate change. Pruitt sued the agency more than a dozen times when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.
Jeff Holmstead, a former head of the EPA air and radiation office under Bush, said Wehrum was the “ideal person to shepherd Administrator Pruitt’s reforms through the regulatory process.”
Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who often votes with Republicans on energy issues, voted against Dourson in part because of Dourson’s support for PFOA and other chemicals that contaminated water supplies in his state of West Virginia.
Environmentalists called on the full Senate to reject the nominees. The nominees would “accelerate Scott Pruitt’s mission to dismantle the EPA from the inside,” said Sara Chieffo, vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters.
The other nominees approved by the panel were Matthew Leopold to head the general counsel office, and David Ross to lead the water office. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)