Former Dow Chemical Co. managing counsel Peter C. Wright received the Senate’s approval July 11 to head the EPA’s Superfund and waste programs.
Following a 52-38 Senate vote, Wright will have to be sworn in at the Environmental Protection Agency before he can officially take on the job. He had been working at the EPA as special counsel in the administrator’s office while awaiting Senate confirmation.
The EPA needs an assistant administrator to prioritize the cleanup of thousands of Superfund and brownfield sites around the country, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said on the Senate floor before the vote.
“He’s ready to take on this responsibility, and he’s been ready for well over a year,” he said. Wright was first nominated in March 2018.
“It’s a shame we had to wait this long to get a good and highly qualified man like Peter into a critically important public service position,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a press release.
As special counsel, Wright last month called for environmental lawyers to help the agency follow through with a variety of changes to the Superfund program, as recommended by EPA staff on the Superfund Task Force.
As part of the task force’s efforts, the agency is issuing guidance documents to reshape the program and push for faster cleanup. The remediation process can take decades for a single site, and EPA administrators under President Donald Trump have focused on speeding cleanup and readying sites for redevelopment.
Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Tom Carper (Del.), and Bob Casey (Pa.) said Wright and the EPA haven’t done enough to address contamination from ubiquitous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in drinking water across the U.S.
PFAS compounds could cause adverse health effects, including developmental harm to fetuses, testicular and kidney cancers, liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid effects, and changes in cholesterol, according to the EPA.
The senators want the EPA to designate the class of thousands of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. That designation would give the agency authority to order their cleanup. But the EPA is still considering how to designate PFAS as hazardous substances and hasn’t yet released a proposal.
Ohio’s Brown opposed Wright’s nomination based on his constituents’ experiences with contaminated drinking water.
“Someone who has repeatedly failed to hold polluters accountable for the damage they’ve done to drinking water in Dayton and across the country has no business serving in a leadership role at EPA,” Brown said in prepared remarks July 9.
Didn’t Get Confirmed in 2018
Wright failed to gain Senate approval in 2018 because of concerns from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) had about the Wright’s defense of dioxins while he was at Dow. Menendez raised the same concerns on the Senate floor July 11.
“I worry about the damage he could do across the nation, including in New Jersey,” Menendez said.
Dioxins have been found in New Jersey’s Passaic River and other Superfund sites and are a group of chemicals that persist in the environment and can cause cancer, according to the EPA.
Wright is recused from working on 300 sites, which include Superfund and other hazardous waste sites. Those sites include the Diamond Alkali Co. Superfund site in Newark, which includes about 17 miles of the Passaic and its watershed.
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