A Senate committee recently voted to approve Michael Dourson, Donald Trump‘s pick to lead the EPA’s chemical safety office, clearing a major obstacle on the way to his confirmation. He’s controversial not just because of his ties to the chemical industry, but also because of his history of injecting religion into his work.
The Senate Environment and Public Works committee voted 11-10, along party lines, to send Dourson’s nomination to the full Senate, according to NBC News.
Dourson has elicited fierce opposition from Senate Democrats and outside health advocates. He spent decades conducting research on behalf of chemical manufacturers, which used his work to downplay the risks of potentially toxic substances.
Before and after the vote, Democrats expressed their anger and frustration at the Republican support for Dourson given the recent passage of landmark legislation to regulate toxic chemicals, which Congress approved in 2016 with overwhelming bipartisan support after decades of deliberation.
Basically, it’s another instance of a Trump appointment in which the fox is being put in charge of the henhouse. Dourson has a lot of experience with the chemical industry, but not in the good way. It could actually conflict with his work at the EPA, according to some critics.
Dourson’s experience, spanning 4 decades, includes multiple science- and risk-assessment–related posts in low- to middle-tier EPA offices throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as well as decades as a research toxicologist. That experience has proved to be a double-edged sword, though, as a chemical risk-assessment nonprofit that he led for 2 decades has come under scrutiny for its longtime reliance on chemical industry funding and its history of consulting for chemical companies.
“Unfortunately, this nomination fits the clear pattern of the Trump administration in appointing individuals to positions for which they have significant conflicts of interest,” Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a New York City–headquartered group, said in an 18 July statement.
Dourson is also under fire from secularists. He has self-published a series of books called Evidence of Faith, which attempt to reconcile religious and scientific views, causing some to question if he’s a biblical literalist who would allow the Bible to get in the way of potentially conflicting scientific discoveries.
Dourson is “known for mingling science and religious ideas,” according to BuzzFeed News.
Dourson has written a three-book series called Evidence of Faith. The books offer a retelling of famous religious stories, such as the birth of Jesus, using a mashup of fictional conversations, references from the Bible and other religious texts, and scientific discoveries. The most recent book, The Linen Cloths: …Jesus Left Behind, was published in February…
At the start of each book, he uses similar language to explain how both nature and the Bible guided his narratives…
It also seems that he may read the Bible literally.
There are numerous concerns about Dourson, and dozens of reasons he wouldn’t be good for the EPA, but I tend to think his chemical company ties are even more concerning than potentially fundamentalist religious views. We know what he does for chemical companies; whether he brings religion into the workplace is still up for debate. Ruth Graham of Slate seems to agree.
So it’s not Dourson’s hobbies nor his faith that should prompt questions about his fitness for the job. Rather, it’s his resume itself. A 2014 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News found that Dourson’s firm had inappropriately close connections to chemical manufacturers and other industry players, for example.
We can criticize more than one thing, and there is plenty of ammunition there when it comes to Dourson, but while the Bible books are sure to draw a lot of attention, they shouldn’t overshadow his disturbing ties to the chemical industry.
(Screenshot via YouTube)