Nancy Beck’s Nomination Draws More Opposition Because: PFAS

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Nancy Beck’s nomination to Chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) suffered a new blow as another Senator announced opposition. This time it was the moderate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. In his public statement, Manchin cited Beck’s record of failing to protect West Virginians from PFAS chemicals—the toxic and persistent chemicals that have contaminated drinking water, food and consumer products around the country. The initial discovery of the health harms caused by PFAS was captured in the recent movie Dark Waters starring Mark Ruffalo, which focuses on the history of DuPont dumping PFAS into the Ohio River, poisoning the downstream drinking water in West Virginia and Ohio.

In her three years as the Trump administration’s Toxics Czar, Beck has done little, if anything, to address the still-growing PFAS crisis, failing to exercise her authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and other laws to gather information about the production, use, emissions, hazards, exposure, and disposal of PFAS, or to add additional controls to PFAS in commerce. Congress has repeatedly had to adopt new requirements and set statutory deadlines to compel Beck to take basic steps that she should have taken years earlier. Meanwhile, EPA’s toxics office has been greenlighting the introduction of new PFAS chemicals into the marketplace, and, eventually, our bodies.  And North Carolina, currently an epicenter of PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River, has gotten the cold shoulder from EPA under Beck. Requests from Senator Richard Burr and Governor Roy Cooper to EPA for actions to reduce discharges into the river – a drinking water source for roughly 250,000 North Carolinians—were ignored. Meanwhile, communities burdened by the threat of PFAS contamination in Alaska, Kentucky, Colorado and other states will wait longer for meaningful federal protections due to Beck’s intransigence.

Beck’s rank favoritism for cancer-causing chemicals—she quashed regulations to protect both consumers and workers from the solvents methylene chloride, TCE and NMP—may finally have caught up with her. In July, she failed to muster a majority of votes by the Senate Commerce Committee to advance her nomination. In June, after a disastrous and dishonest nominations hearing, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia publicly announced their opposition to Beck’s nomination. Beck did nothing to build confidence in her suitability, or veracity, in her response to written questions from Senators after the hearing. She dodged answering uncomfortable questions about her record from Senators Krysten Sinema of Arizona and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

While her record on methylene chloride, TCE, asbestos, and a host of other chemicals has raised concerns about the fate of consumer protection should she be confirmed, the Administration’s—and Beck’s—glaringly poor record on PFAS has become the focal point for Senators’ skepticism and opposition. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, in a written question to Beck after her hearing asked what she would do to address the PFAS crisis if she were confirmed to Chair the CPSC. She answered that she would survey which consumer products contain PFAS and then figure out what to do next to protect the public. Gardner, and the rest of the Senate, should not accept such a vague and unreliable response. What Gardner didn’t ask, and what Beck failed to volunteer, was the reason for all her actions to undermine the protection of consumers from PFAS in her current job.

  • Why does EPA continue to approve the introduction of new PFAS into the marketplace?
  • Why did Beck insist on a method for evaluating PFAS that would ignore sources of exposure including drinking water (subsequently thrown out by a federal appeals court)?
  • Why did Beck refuse to require reporting of PFAS manufacture and use under TSCA, which would have provided needed information for the “survey” she says she would conduct at the CPSC? (Congress finally set a deadline for this reporting requirement—2023)
  • Why did Beck refuse to require reporting on emissions and releases of PFAS from production facilities? (Congress also set a deadline for EPA to require this reporting)
  • Why did Beck fail to finalize a requirement to report new uses of PFAS in consumer products? (Congress, yet again, had to set a deadline to compel Beck and EPA to take action) And why did Beck then work persistently to weaken the proposed reporting requirement?

Nancy Beck’s answer to Senator Gardner is a signal of her lack of intent to address the PFAS crisis with any more vigor and commitment than during her tenure at EPA. It provides no cover for Senator Gardner, or any other Senator, to support her nomination. With a bi-partisan mix of three prominent moderate Senators publicly opposing Beck’s nomination, and the Commerce Committee at best deadlocked, Beck’s path forward is exceedingly narrow. One theory is that Senator Mitch McConnell might try to move her nomination to the floor during a post-election lame duck session of Congress. But there are rumored to be one or more Senators who have not yet publicly stated their position who will oppose Beck if her nomination comes up for a Senate vote. Given Beck’s record of inaction and evasion, and her spectacularly bad nomination hearing, that’s not surprising.

But why wait three months before publicly opposing the confirmation of someone totally unsuited to the position they’ve been nominated for? Senators Manchin, Capito and Collins all saw enough to know that Nancy Beck should not be allowed anywhere near the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Many of their Senate colleagues—including those on the Senate Commerce Committee like Senator Gardner and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and those not on the Committee like Richard Burr and Thom Tillis from North Carolina, and Tim Scott and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina—should be able to draw the same conclusions, based on the harm Beck’s policies have caused constituents in their states. The process may continue to drag on, but the longer her nomination lingers, her momentum toward confirmation—which is barely detectable at the moment—will continue to evaporate. Senator Manchin’s opposition is the latest sign that Beck’s confirmation is highly unlikely, and her nomination is in deservedly deep trouble.

About the Authors

Daniel Rosenberg

Director, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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