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VIDEO: Booker Grills EPA Nominee: “You’ve Been Advocating for [Chemical] Levels That Will Literally Poison People”

“I don’t know if you have children…but I doubt you would let them live next to the companies that are spewing this stuff in the air”

October 5, 2017
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WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) today grilled President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Michael Dourson during a confirmation hearing, calling him a “corporate lackey” doing the bidding of companies that have spewed unsafe chemicals into the environment. As Booker passionately explained in the hearing, Dourson’s company, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), has advocated for chemical “levels that will literally poison people.”

Dourson is Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. 

Click here for a video of the exchange. Rushed transcript is below.

Booker: Mr. Dourson, I have to say…I’ve only been in the Senate for four years but your nomination is one of the more shocking that I’ve seen. And your job that you’re being nominated to…is to the Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention office and the mission as I hope you’ve memorized frankly is to protect families and the environment from the potential risks from pesticides and toxic chemicals. You’ve heard already from my colleagues – Senator Duckworth talking about the southside of Chicago; I live in a community that has seen the effects of corporate villainy to the point where our soil is poisoned – we can’t plant in many places in our city, the air is poisoned – asthma rates, lead poisoning rates; the water is poisoned; because corporations, pressing their hand and their power and their money, have been able to poison communities to the extent that you have autism rates, birth defects, cancers in our children in places in this country that are unconscionable.

And I really hope as you sit there on your perch right now that you have the capacity to have empathy for those people, many of whom are sitting behind you right now, who view your nomination with fear and anguish. And that fear and anguish is not partisan, it’s not coming from thin air. As you’ve heard from my colleagues, it’s coming from looking at your record. I would’ve imagined that someone would be nominated that has a track record of standing up for those vulnerable people in our nation. But my colleague after colleague has now pointed out what you’ve been doing with your professional career. And I’ll just go through because it almost seems like a…scene out of some Disney movie where there’s corporate villains that do harm to our environment or at least seek to if it wasn’t for the heroic actions of others. 

So this is the process: first a company or industry identifies a problem and you’ve already talked to Dow and Monsanto and chemical companies like this and they want to exercise influence to stop safety measures being done by governments. And so what happens is the corporation hires your organization – TERA (Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment) – to come up with a recommendation and safety standard so they can try to defend their desire to put more poisons into the atmosphere, into the soil, into our waterAnd so what happens is that you come up with the science to backup these corporations. But I tried to give this a fair measure. The information I received was so astonishing that I wanted to dig into some of this stuff and came up with the same things that other folks have come up with. You’ve heard these chemicals now mentioned by my colleagues – they’re banned in the European Union, literally banned. You all advocated for limits in the water based on your science that ended up being 280 times higher than the state of Wisconsin believed was safe for their kids.

And so I know that you can pick your chemical here. The pattern I’ve seen just from looking at your record sir goes again and again and again. Corporations fund studies from TERA and have science on –here’s chlorpyrifos – that literally comes – your studies, this one, in the case of that chemical, that effects farmworkers and children, was a thousand times higher than the ultimate EPA standard. A thousand times higher.

And so clearly to me we have a situation where you’re about to be the person that’s the head of an office that has the mission of protecting children and you have a pattern of working with corporations to advocate for a position that is hundreds if not thousands of times more dangerous than the standards that we set and that we see other nations moving to ban the very chemicals that you have been advocating for as safe at higher levels. The chairman said you’ve been a leader in human risk assessment. I don’t see this as leadership when you’re advocating for levels that will literally poison people. It doesn’t make you seem like a leader in your career, it seems like you’re a lackey, a corporate lackey doing the bidding of people that are trying to create in communities like the one I live in, where my niece was born, to create environments that are chemically toxic. I’ve heard you not answer this question over and over again, but I’m appealing to you to recuse yourself - it seems logical and legal that you would recuse yourself from making decisions on chemicals from companies that have paid you. I don’t understand any defense to that. If these corporations are advocating for standards you set at levels that poison human beings, it seems logical that you should not be the judge of whether those chemicals should be released or changing standards that will now reflect what those corporations wanted. And so I doubt I’m going to get it. But will you recuse yourself sir?

MD: Senator I’ll follow the EPA ethics officials’ determination for any recusal. 

CB: And that’s the point I’ll conclude with sir. Because you’re going to follow the ethics you think the EPA is going to give you. And I’m talking to you not just about ethics and law, I’m talking to you about conscience and moral values. It seems you’ve been willing to bend those ideals. I don’t know if you have children, I don’t know if you have grandchildren, I don’t know if you have nieces and nephews like me, but I doubt you would let them live next to the companies that are spewing this stuff in the air. You would not let them live there and accept standards in their atmosphere that you have been claiming for your entire career are safe. You would not do it but you are advocating for positions…that are going to endanger those children that are in those communities.