Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is blocking an EPA nomination because he wants the agency to delay establishing safety procedures for formaldehyde. Meanwhile, major emitters of the dangerous chemical have been generous contributors to the senator’s reelection campaign.
Vitter met yesterday with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, who sought, unsuccessfully, to convince him to remove the hold he had placed on Paul Anastas, who has been nominated to be the EPA’s assistant administrator in charge of its Office of Research and Development, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
No one has a problem with Anastas, who served in environmental posts in the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations. Rather, according to the Times-Picayune, Vitter wants the EPA to let the National Academy of Sciences review EPA’s assessment of the risks posed by the chemical formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, and has been linked to nasal, lung, and brain cancer, as well as leukemia. EPA says it’s been studying the issue since 1997, and it’s now time to issue a risk assessment and establish safety standards.
Vitter presents his position as one of concern about the risks of formaldehyde, dangerously high levels of which were last year detected in FEMA trailers housing Katrina evacuees, forcing FEMA to relocate some people to “safer housing.” “Because of the FEMA trailer debacle, we need to get absolutely reliable information to the public about formaldehyde risk as soon as possible,” a Vitter spokesman told the Times-Picayune. “That’s why Sen. Vitter started working with a bipartisan group over a year ago to have the National Academy of Sciences weigh in.”
But Vitter’s stance on the issue is identical to that taken by the Formaldehyde Council Inc. (FCI), a trade group of formaldehyde producers. The group told TPMmuckraker in a statement that “an NAS review of formaldehyde has been a long-standing policy goal of the industry,” and added that “FCI believes that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that formaldehyde and formaldehyde-derived products are safe when used appropriately.” In addition, lobby disclosure reports examined by TPMmuckraker show that the group paid $30,000 to a Republican lobbying firm this year in part to win “support for a National Academy of Sciences review of scientific studies on the toxicity of formaldehyde.”
It’s perhaps not surprising that Vitter’s and the formaldehyde industry’s positions on the issue would correspond so closely. Many of Louisiana’s top emitters of the pollutant are contributors to Vitter’s 2010 re-election bid. According to FEC records examined by TPMmuckraker, the Louisiana senator has received $9000 from Dow Chemical’s political action committee, $5000 from Monsanto’s, $4000 from Exxon-Mobil’s, and $2500 from the American Forest and Paper Association’s. Dow, Exxon, and Monsanto are all among the top formaldehyde polluters in the state, EPA data examined by TPMmuckraker show, while both Dow and the American Forest and Paper Association are members of FCI.
Vitter’s office did not immediately respond to TPMmuckraker’s request for comment.