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Wednesday, 01 August 2018 06:17

Trump Appoints Dow Chemical Lawyer to Oversee Superfund Toxic Cleanup

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EPAsaveThe Superfund toxic cleanup program is threatened by corporate pro-pollution policies. (AFGE)

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Peter C. Wright -- the attorney appointed by Trump to head the EPA Superfund toxic cleanup program -- may have had over a decade of personal experience in working on cleanups, but there is cause for grave concern over his appointment: Wright was a lead attorney for none other than Dow Chemical Company in representing the corporation against the EPA's compliance orders.

According to a July 28 article in the New York Times, Wright's record for Dow involves protecting the polluting companies from the EPA, while allowing for some minimal compliance. The Times notes:

While he led Dow’s legal strategy there, the chemical giant was accused by regulators, and in one case a Dow engineer, of submitting disputed data, misrepresenting scientific evidence and delaying cleanup, according to internal documents and court records as well as interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the project....

The lawyer, Peter C. Wright, was nominated in March by President Trump to be assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency overseeing the Superfund program, which was created decades ago to clean up the nation’s most hazardous toxic waste sites. He is already working at the agency in an advisory role as he awaits congressional approval. If confirmed, Mr. Wright would also oversee the emergency response to chemical spills and other hazardous releases nationwide...

He spent 19 years at Dow, one of the world’s largest chemical makers, and once described himself in a court deposition as “the company’s dioxin lawyer.”

The EPA is touting Wright's "expertise," but his "expertise" is in defending corporate interests. Of course, the whole Superfund crisis was caused by corporations that flouted environmental laws. They created toxic sites that can cause cancer and other serious diseases, and the nation is riddled with Superfund locations.

Superfund sites represent the excesses of corporate disregard for the environment and the residents surrounding their plants and projects. Wright spent many years on the wrong side of cleaning them up. Now, he is a senate confirmation away from being officially in charge of undoing the damage. It is right for the public to be skeptical about his willingness to launch an aggressive campaign to remediate the sites.

For instance, according to Big Law Business, Wright thinks the widespread problem of PCBs, now banned but still present in many Superfund sites, should not be an EPA concern:

In a 2016 blog post about EPA waste cleanup efforts, Wright suggested the federal government didn’t need Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act programs or the Toxic Substances Control Act program for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

It is important to note that Wright will be working under a new EPA administrator who is hostile to environmental concerns and sympathetic to corporations in EPA decisions. Yes, Scott Pruitt left as EPA administer because of his egregious misuse of taxpayer funding, but that doesn't mean his successor, Andrew K. Wheeler, will be any less harmful to the environment and its impact on people's health.

Former EPA official Joel Wheeler published a July 30 op-ed in the Miami Herald warning of Wheeler's less splashy harm to the mission of the EPA:

In Wheeler, the president has an acting administrator who knows his way around Washington, is not mired in scandal, but appears just as committed as Pruitt to shredding environmental protections. That could make him a far more formidable destroyer of environmental regulation than his predecessor.

So, while the celebration over Pruitt’s resignation is understandable, there seems scant reason for optimism that his departure will result in a meaningful change in the direction of EPA’s harmful policies. If anything, Wheeler may hew even more closely to the White House’s reactionary, anti-safeguards approach. Since he is not in the job to advance a political career, Wheeler will probably undo EPA regulations more effectively than Pruitt while avoiding the kinds of self-enriching personal scandals that led to Pruitt’s downfall. To the extent Wheeler succeeds, the health of the American people, and the future of the world’s climate, could suffer grave damage that will be difficult to undo.

If Wright's role of overseeing the toxic cleanup program is made official, he will likely then be operating with the policies of a reactionary EPA. Wright is no outlier; he is the essence of Trump's vision of weakening the agency from within. This could possibly lead to the eventual dismantling of the department.

In a March Associated Press article when Wright was nominated by Trump (and remember he is currently serving in the EPA on a temporary basis), journalist Michael Bisecker accused Trump of reneging on his pledge to "drain the swamp":

Despite Trump’s campaign pledges to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Wright’s nomination is the latest example of the president appointing corporate lawyers or lobbyists to supervise federal offices that directly regulate their former employers.

On September 1, 2017, a Dow news release officially announced the completion of its merger with DuPont. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, or its subsidiaries are listed as the parent company for over 200 Superfund sites, 50 Risk Management Plan (RMP) facilities and over 50 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) facilities with corrective actions."

A chemical company corporate lawyer will inevitably slow down Superfund remediation.