GOP opposition may thwart Trump’s consumer safety nominee

Senators say her role delaying regulations to protect workers and consumers from chemical substances should be disqualifying

Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, left, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia oppose the nomination of Nancy Beck to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, left, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia oppose the nomination of Nancy Beck to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 19, 2020 at 12:56pm

The White House’s nominee to lead the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent government agency that issues recalls of dangerous products, is in jeopardy after two Republican senators said they would oppose her nomination.

At her confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Nancy Beck, who worked at the American Chemistry Council — a chemical industry lobbying group — before joining the Trump administration, came under sharp criticism over delaying regulations to protect workers and consumers from chemical substances.

Democrats and Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia zeroed in on Beck’s work with rules to address the health risks of and contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a group of human-made chemicals tied to a range of health problems. West Virginia is one of many states grappling with PFAS contamination.

Capito and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is in a tough reelection race, said Wednesday they would oppose Beck’s nomination. Both cited her record on PFAS chemicals.

[To boost hobbled economy, Trump orders agencies to ease rules]

Opposition from the pair may sink Beck’s nomination to be chairwoman of the five-seat commission, which assesses the health and safety risks of tens of thousands of items from toys, car seats, cribs and strollers, to cigarette lighters, lawn mowers, firearms and TV antennas. 

President Donald Trump nominated Beck, who works at the White House after moving from EPA’s chemical safety office, in March. If confirmed, Beck. would have a seven-year term and oversee an agency responsible for reviewing more than 15,000 products.

In 2017, Beck oversaw changes to an EPA rule from the Obama administration to regulate PFAS chemicals, making their cleanup more difficult. 

With 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats on the committee, Capito’s opposition could deadlock the nomination 13-13 if all the Democrats vote against Beck, though the committee could still report the nomination unfavorably to the Senate floor.

“Nancy Beck’s record as it relates to PFAS chemicals, as well as her responses to my questions and the questions of other Senators at yesterday’s Commerce Committee hearing have led me to conclude that she is not the right person to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” Capito said in a statement. “I will vote against Dr. Beck’s confirmation in both the Commerce Committee and on the Senate floor.” 

Collins is not on the committee but can be a swing vote on environmental issues. 

“Based on her record at the Environmental Protection Agency and at the White House, I do not believe that Dr. Nancy Beck’s views on chemical safety, including on PFAS substances and asbestos, align with the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s mission,” Collins said in a statement. 

Wheeler’s support

“Dr. Beck has served this nation with honor and integrity, and I fully support her nomination,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement in March.

The chemicals have been found nationwide at military bases, industrial sites and in drinking water. They are linked to health problems like cancer and liver damage and known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally disintegrate and linger in the human body persistently.

Representatives for Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Cory Gardner of Colorado, who are both on the committee and running for reelection, did not respond when asked if the senators support Beck.

Emails the Associated Press published in May show Beck, who has a doctorate in toxicology but is not a medical doctor or virologist, was involved this spring in delaying CDC recommendations about the coronavirus. 

While at EPA, Beck was also involved in the 2018 halting of the publication of a government study on chemicals in the PFAS family that one official at the agency said in an email could be a “potential public relations nightmare.”

On Tuesday, Beck told Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, “I can assure you I didn’t block any CDC guidance.”

He asked her about PFAS. “The federal government is working very hard to understand the science and to take appropriate regulatory action to address PFAS,” Beck said. 

Blumenthal asked if she would support eliminating PFAS from use in firefighting foam, a particularly nettlesome application of the chemicals. “You would support a ban?” Blumenthal asked. 

“I support a transition away from the PFAS foams, absolutely,” Beck replied.

While the key manufacturers of PFAS chemicals — DuPont, Chemours, 3M and affiliates — are all moving to phase out the substances, the chemicals are nearly ubiquitous in modern life. They can be found in clothing, food packaging, firefighting foams, cookware and more products. They are found in the blood streams of 99 percent of Amerians, according to the Environmental Working Group, a public health advocacy organization.

“Since PFAS never break down, it’s only a matter of when, not whether, people will be exposed to PFAS in products,” Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the group, said in a statement. 

Ninety scientists wrote in a June 10 letter, organized by the Natural Resources Defense Council, in opposition to Beck’s nomination.

The CPSC has not had a Senate-confirmed chairperson during the Trump administration. Ann Marie Buerkle, a former member of Congress, served as acting chairwoman until September, when she withdrew her nomination to lead the commission.