Duckworth, Durbin call for probe of EPA

Senators charge ‘potential outright misconduct by political appointees’ failing to regulate firms on ethylene oxide like Sterigenics

U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin meet at his office in Washington, D.C. (Sen. Dick Durbin)

U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin meet at his office in Washington, D.C. (Sen. Dick Durbin)

By Ted Cox

The state’s two U.S. senators are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate whether Trump-administration political appointees are blocking enforcement of regulations on ethylene oxide, including emissions of the carcinogenic chemical at the controversial Sterigenics facilities in Willowbrook.

After Sen. Tammy Duckworth charged last week that Trump “political appointees are working to undermine” the EPA’s mission, Illinois senior Sen. Dick Durbin joined her in sending a letter to the EPA’s inspector general seeking an investigation into “potential outright misconduct by political appointees.”

In Senate confirmation hearings last week for acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler, Duckworth accused the EPA of doing no testing on EtO for six months, including at the Sterigenics facilities in Willowbrook found to be the cause of an elevated cancer risk in the area in a government study released last summer.

Duckworth charged that “EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp and other political appointees” had ordered staff not to inspect firms, like Sterigenics, using EtO in their operations, and that no such inspections had taken place nationally for “at least the last six months” — a charge repeated in the letter to the EPA inspector general, which was also signed by U.S. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware.

Citing “allegations that senior EPA political appointees instructed or impeded investigations of facilities that emit EtO,” the letter asked the EPA inspector general to open an investigation into whether high-level EPA staff “may be preventing its personnel from carrying out this critical mission as a result of politically motivated interference.” The senators called that possibility “disturbing,” adding that it “must be investigated to determine the truth.”

President Trump has persistently boasted about how his administration is trying to minimize government regulations to give businesses a freer hand. But ignoring existing regulations on emissions of carcinogens like EtO would be another issue entirely.

The letter charged that “if the lax inspection and enforcement activity is a result of politically motivated interference overriding recommendations of career staff, that would elevate our concerns from simple poor performance to potential outright misconduct by political appointees.”

The letter pointed out that “Americans rely on EPA to protect them from public threats posed by contaminated air and water.”

EPA employee Michael Mikulka, idled by the partial government shutdown, charged at a Chicago rally last week that “no one is monitoring environmental data” at the EPA during the impasse brought on by President Trump in his demand for a Mexican border wall.