The Corporate Capture of EPA

Anyone who thinks the Environmental Protection Agency should care about public health more than corporate wealth should tune in to today’s Senate Environment and Public Works Committee nominations hearing. You’ll get to watch the capture of EPA by regulated industries in real time. This ever-deepening reach of corporate interests into our environmental regulator will have consequences for this generation and those to come.

The tone at EPA is set from the top. Administrator Scott Pruitt has a long record of dark money fundraising and cozy relationships with big fossil fuel political donors. Oil and gas giant Devon Energy, for example, has been a generous supporter of Pruitt’s campaigns. While Pruitt was in leadership positions with the Republican Attorneys General Association and its predecessor, the Republican State Leadership Committee, Devon give these entities almost one million dollars.

Thanks to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting by the New York Times, we know that backing Pruitt was a good investment. In 2011, then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt took a letter written by Devon Energy, put it onto his Oklahoma Attorney General letterhead, signed it, and sent it off to EPA, pleading Devon Energy’s anti-regulatory case as if it were his own. Recently the Times reported, “How Rollbacks at Scott Pruitt’s E.P.A. Are a Boon to Oil and Gas.” The article included a checklist of deregulatory actions that specifically benefit long-time Pruitt benefactor Devon Energy.

We still don’t know the full depths of Pruitt’s ties to industry. Senate Republicans jammed his nomination through without demanding answers to questions raised by me and my Democratic colleagues on the Environment and Public Works Committee. And now, 229 days after he was sworn in Administrator, we still wait for Chairman John Barrasso to bring Pruitt before the Committee for an oversight hearing.

After Pruitt’s sham of a confirmation, it’s no surprise that industry feels free to jam through a slew of industry cronies. Michael Dourson is a prolific industry-funded “scientist” and a key architect of the industrial climate change denial apparatus. In 2012, the Center for Progressive Reform released “Cozying Up: How the Manufacturers of Toxic Chemicals Seek to Co-opt their Regulators.” The report detailed the work Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, the “non-profit organization Dourson founded, has done to undermine public health protections.” It also found a third of the group’s revenue came directly from industry, with another 30 percent coming from “non-profit sources often dependent upon chemical manufacturer support.”

If confirmed, Dourson will be in charge of implementing the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. He will have the final say over which and how many chemicals are deemed high priority, which uses are considered in risk evaluations, and the stringency of the safety requirements EPA sets for chemicals found to be unsafe. Consumers deserve to be confident that the chemicals in everyday products are safe; they won’t have that confidence with Dourson at the helm.

Bill Wehrum has been nominated to serve as EPA’s top air official. Wehrum’s clients are a who’s-who of polluting industry, including the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the Utility Air Regulatory Group. Wehrum’s firm, Hunton and Williams, directly contributed to Scott Pruitt’s attorney general campaign and gave over $200,000 to RAGA and the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Through documents produced from Oklahoma Open Records Act requests, we know that Hunton and Williams staff worked with Attorney General Pruitt and industry to get other state attorneys general to oppose EPA’s carbon pollution standards for new power plants. Hunton and Williams attorneys also counseled Pruitt’s staff on who to approach about signing on, and coached them on how and when to submit the comments.

Wehrum fought EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, Clean Power Plan, Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, methane standard for new oil and gas development, greenhouse gas reporting rule, and many other environmental protections. If confirmed he’ll be in charge of them.

Americans trust the EPA to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe, and to police the chemicals and pesticides to which we’re exposed. They should also trust Congress with protecting EPA from being captured by the industries that it regulates.

We’ve seen too often what happens when wealthy and powerful industries gain excessive influence over the agencies that regulate them. The capture of the Minerals Management Service at the Department of Interior contributed to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The Securities and Exchange Commission and other bank regulators looked away as financial services companies created exotic and irresponsible financial products that took our economy to the brink of collapse in 2008.

Regulators who are in the tank won’t do their jobs. If we continue to look the other way when nominees like this come before the Senate, we can expect scandals and recurring disasters in the future. That’s no way to govern. Regulators owned and controlled by industry are not the American way.