Las Vegas Sun

December 6, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Americans to Trump: We will not stand by as you bulldoze the EPA


Tom Brenner / The New York Times

Michael Dourson speaks Oct. 4 at his nomination hearing to serve as head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical regulatory program, before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Last week, Dourson withdrew from consideration.

The outcome of the Senate race in Alabama wasn’t the only victory last week for Americans fighting back against President Donald Trump’s destructive and divisive agenda.

The day after watching Republican candidate Roy Moore lose the election despite Trump’s endorsement, the president suffered another setback when his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety division backed out of consideration

The nominee, Michael L. Dourson, was a galling choice for the position. A close ally of the chemical and tobacco industries, Dourson is a toxicologist who’s produced a string of studies backing safety claims by those industries on toxic chemicals, including pesticides and flame retardants. Google his name, and you’ll see the word “shill” pop up more than once.

As was the case with Trump’s EPA director, Scott Pruitt, a longtime enemy of the agency, choosing Dourson to lead the chemical safety division was a textbook case of trying to let the fox guard the hen house.

So after months of watching Trump destroy years of progress on environmental stewardship with his slap-in-the-face appointments and rollbacks of regulations, it was refreshing to see Dourson back out.

Dourson had been the subject of an intense campaign aimed at putting public pressure on senators not to vote for his confirmation. A particularly clever approach came from Clean Air Moms Action, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, which distributed a package for mythical Dourson-brand cigarettes containing the warning “EPA nominee Michael Dourson may be hazardous to your health.”

Clever, but it was true. Among the alarming items from Dourson’s past, he had argued for far looser protective standards for perchlorate, a chemical component of rocket fuel that has been linked to serious impairment of brain development in children. Southern Nevadans know all too well about the stuff, as the nation’s largest perchlorate plume is in our backyard and has contaminated Lake Mead. Since 1997, the plume has been the subject of a multibillion-dollar cleanup effort that has reduced its level in the lake.

Given that perchlorate was only one chemical for which Dourson sought a scaleback of protection, seeing him withdraw was reason for celebration.

Those who opposed him set a good example for all Americans, especially those who are justifiably horrified by Trump’s assault on the environment.

With Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, it’s been a painful year for those who care about reversing global warming, protecting our lands and waterways and reducing pollution.

Even with a nominee as lousy as Dourson, it took an intense effort to keep him out of the position. His withdrawal apparently was triggered by the publication of documents showing the closeness of his ties with the chemical industry. Greenpeace obtained the documents and shared them with The New York Times.

Those involved with fully exposing Dourson deserve a bravo, as do two Republican senators who had announced their opposition to him — Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both of North Carolina. In breaking party ranks, they had left Dourson without a safety net, as one more no vote from Republicans would have sunk his nomination.

Unfortunately, Dourson was the tip of the iceberg in terms of Trump’s dismantling of the EPA, so there’s much more work to be done by advocates and concerned Americans.

But those who tripped up his nomination offered inspiration and hope. As they showed, Americans who aren’t afraid to stand in front of Trump’s bulldozer can make good things happen.