Trump gives chemical industry insider power on regulating chemicals

The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)
The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C.

Up until fairly recently, Nancy Beck was an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the trade association for the nation's chemical industry. As the New York Times reported over the weekend, however, Donald Trump's administration has given Beck a job at the EPA -- helping lead the agency's toxic chemical unit.

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.So scientists and administrators in the E.P.A.'s Office of Water were alarmed in late May when a top Trump administration appointee insisted upon the rewriting of a rule to make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore regulate it.

It was, of course, Beck, the former American Chemistry Council executive, who demanded the revision. Voters who supported Donald Trump because they hoped he'd "drain the swamp," preventing corporate insiders from helping call the shots in government agencies, are getting the exact opposite of what they wanted.

But just to twist the knife a little more, consider what the political appointees at Trump's EPA had to say when the New York Times called for a comment.

"No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece," Liz Bowman, an EPA spokesperson told the newspaper via email. "The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country."

And who's Liz Bowman? Before she went to work at Trump's EPA as a spokesperson, she was a spokesperson at ... wait for it ... the American Chemistry Council.

As for her official response, for folks who are unfamiliar with the idea of "clickbait," some online outlets publish pieces of dubious quality, usually with overly provocative headlines and photos, in a brazen attempt to boost their traffic. The point, of course, is to use tantalizing content as "bait," in order to get people to "click."

I won't claim to be an expert in the tactic, but I'm reasonably sure that if the New York Times were desperate for cheap and ill-gotten clicks, it would probably publish cat gifs, not 6,000-word pieces on EPA safeguards related to the chemical industry.