(CN) - A Senate Panel voted Wednesday to advance President Donald Trump's nominees for key posts at the Environmental Protection Agency over the objections of Democrats who decried the fact the nominees have worked in the past for corporate clients they will now be tasked with regulating.
Republicans on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works voted in favor of sending five nominations to the full Senate.
The nominees include Michael Dourson to lead the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and Bill Wehrum to lead the agency's Office of Air and Radiation.
According to the Associated Press, Dourson has been paid for several years by chemical companies -- including Chevron Corp., Dow Chemical and Koch Industries -- to write papers disputing peer-reviewed studies that raise health concerns about his client's products.
Dourson, a toxicologist, has also reportedly done similar work for trade and lobbying groups that represent the makers of pesticides, processed foods and tobacco products.
He is the founder of Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment which has been criticized for recommending exposure standards to certain chemicals that are far weaker than federal recommendations.
Wehrum, a lawyer in private practice, has represented the American Petroleum Institute, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Chemistry Council, all of whom have at one time or another opposed mandated reductions in carbon emissions.
He served in the EPA under President George W. Bush and while there, argued the agency wasn’t authorized to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Sen. Tom Carper, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Wednesday that the two nominees were a "grave concern" and that Dourson was "One of the most troubling nominees I have ever considered during my time on this committee."
The committee also advanced the nominations of Matthew Leopold to serve as the assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of General Counsel, David Ross to lead the agency's Office of Water, and Paul Trombino III to serve as administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.
It also voted to reappoint Jeffrey Baran as a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the committee chairman, called all of the nominees well-qualified for the posts they hope to hold.
"This confirmation will fill critically important roles in ensuring that all Americans benefit from clean air, clean water and clean land," he said.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., also praised the nominees, urging the full Senate to quickly confirm them so they can "improve public health within the scope of the EPA's authority."
During the hearing, some Democrats complained Barrasso wasn't giving them enough time to contest the nominations.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., went so far as to declare the hearing process 'is simply not on the up and up."
“With respect to Mr. Dourson, we have a particular problem,” he said.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D.-Ill., said Dourson’s nomination was “unbelievable.”
“I cannot believe the commander in chief of our military would nominate Dourson, who has defended the safety of chemicals linked to high cancer rates in service members and veterans," Duckworth said.
"Four hundred bases are now being tested. Twenty-seven bases in 16 states have confirmed contaminates are in the soil. Yet, the president nominated Dourson who has been paid to falsely claim that dozens of chemicals are safe for common use and help blocked efforts to regulate them," Duckworth said.
“What we’re seeing here today is a repetition of history. What we’re seeing is a group of people who are clearly trying to turn the EPA into every polluter’s ally," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., "It is absolutely immoral for this committee or this Senate to confirm people with a known animosity towards putting in place standards which protect the public health.”
In other EPA-related news, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that the agency will begin focusing its chemical reviews solely on toxins still being manufactured and entering the market.
It won’t consider any “new handling and disposal rules” for previously existing materials, the report said.
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