Michael Dourson, whose nomination to become the Environmental Protection Agency’s top chemical safety official drew widespread criticism, withdrew from consideration Wednesday after it became clear that the Senate probably would not confirm him.
Dourson’s decision, which was confirmed by two senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters, probably prevents him from becoming the first Trump nominee to be rejected by the Senate.
A former University of Cincinnati professor and longtime toxicologist who worked at the EPA from 1980 to 1994, Dourson was closely tied to the chemical industry through a nonprofit consulting group he founded shortly after leaving the agency. Over the years, it produced research for chemical companies that consistently showed little or no human health risks from their products.
Critics said Dourson had too many conflicts of interest to be considered for the EPA post. If confirmed to lead the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, they noted, he could oversee the review of chemicals produced by companies he once represented.
“The withdrawal of Michael Dourson’s nomination is good news for the health of American families,” Richard Denison, lead scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “It was clear from the beginning that Dr. Dourson was a dangerous choice. . . . He would have undermined public health and damaged the historic chemical safety reforms passed by Congress last year.”
In October, a Senate committee narrowly advanced Dourson’s nomination along party lines. But some Senate Republicans began voicing reservations about confirming him to the high-level post.
Both of North Carolina’s GOP senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, indicated that they could not support his nomination. Burr said he was most alarmed about Dourson’s work on a case involving contaminated water at a North Carolina military base and an unregulated compound known as Gen X, used to produce Teflon and other products, that was discovered in the Cape Fear River. Tillis voiced concerns about Dourson’s “body of work.”
When Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that she shared those concerns and that it was “safe to say that I am leaning against him,” the nomination was all but doomed.
“Dr. 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,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who sits on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “I hope that we can all learn from this moment, and I hope the administration will work swiftly to find an independent, credible chemical safety regulator — one who will protect public health.”
Dourson has been serving as a senior adviser at the EPA while the Senate has been weighing his nomination, and he resigned his faculty appointment at the University of Cincinnati on Oct. 15. He will seek work opportunities outside the agency, according to a senior administration official.
Dourson could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.