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Green Activists' Unwarranted Attacks on CPSC Nominee Nancy Beck

Left-of-center environmental activists are at it again, maligning the reputation of one of President Trump’s nominees—with little regard for the truth. One of their latest victims is toxicologist Nancy Beck, whom Trump recently nominated to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Nancy Beck’s main “crime” is that she once worked for the American Chemistry Council, which is the D.C. association for chemical manufacturers. The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) exclaims:

This is the person that Donald Trump believes is best equipped to protect U.S. consumers from being harmed by the products they bring into their homes: a person whose last private-sector job was protecting the interests of chemical companies, and whose current job in the public sector doesn’t appear to be all that different.

The assumption is that chemical manufacturers are somehow involved in a nefarious scheme to poison people with dangerous products and get rich in the process, and people who work for them are on board with that scheme. I addressed such absurd claims in the past when The New York Times attacked Beck in 2017, but let’s take another look. 

First, let’s review Beck’s impressive credentials that make her well suited for any post that would benefit from a thoughtful person with a science background. Her background includes service as a toxicologist for the Washington State Department of Health, at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, and as an analyst in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) during both George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. After more than a decade of public service, Beck became the Senior Director of Regulatory Science Policy at the American Chemistry Council.

In 2017, she became the EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention for the Trump administration and was detailed to the President’s Council for Economic Advisers last June.

Former OIRA Administrator John Graham, Ph.D., strongly supports Beck’s confirmation based on his experience working with her during the George W. Bush administration at OIRA. In an email to E&E Daily. He explained:

Nancy Beck is one of the most qualified nominees to lead CPSC in the history of the agency. … I was very impressed with her credentials, her communications skills, her incisive mind, and so we hired her. … In the entire period I have known Nancy, I have never detected a partisan, commercially oriented, or ideological thought in her mind.

But greens are unlikely to take Graham’s word; they just assume anyone who works for any kind of business must be compromised. It does not occur to them that some people take jobs advocating for an industry because they believe that industry provides important benefits for society. And as such a highly qualified toxicologist, Nancy Beck would recognize that without the chemical industry, life would be miserable. After all, man-made chemicals are used to disinfect our water, grow our food, provide sanitary means of transporting our food, produce medicines, and so much more. I don’t think Beck’s environmentalist critics could claim to provide so many critical lifesaving and enhancing benefits to society as have American chemical businesses. I will have more on that in another post.

While some people may make a good living in these industries, it does not follow that they spend their lives covering up and aiding efforts to slowly poison people. They do understand that, as with anything, chemicals pose risks that must be managed. Therefore, businesses and their associations hire scientists like Beck to help ensure that the risks remain low and manageable so we can enjoy the benefits.

When scientists work on the policy side, they focus on figuring out at what dose and under what circumstances might a chemical pose a risk. Many times, that means contradicting environmental activists who push bans based on faulty assumptions. These groups often wrongly assume that a chemical is dangerous at any exposure level, when it is actually the dose that makes the poison. Low-level exposures to chemicals can have no measurable effect or even be beneficial, while high levels can be dangerous.

These green groups also fail to consider the dangers created by their bans. For example, some have advocated chlorine bans, even though chlorination of water supplies protects millions of people from illnesses and even death.

The issue gets even more complicated when regulators set standards or guidelines that are out of touch with reality. This happens often because regulators tend to rely on excessive caution, while ignoring the benefits of chemicals they are trying to regulate. For example, see my papers on the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System. As a result, greens then use the agency’s foolish standards for fearmongering to push regulations that do more harm than good.

Beck has played a role in trying to prevent misguided agency actions that promise to do more harm than good. At the EPA, she was simply applying the scientific criteria provided by Congress within the recently reformed (2016) Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which both houses of Congress passed nearly unanimously. Unlike many other environmental statutes, TSCA has more balanced and scientifically sound criteria that Beck was required to apply. In so doing, she was working to protect consumers by ensuring resulting regulations are based on hard science. 

The reasons environmental activists are so up in arms is because Beck is willing to take courageous positions by applying science, and that often conflicts with big-government activist campaigns. Consumers need an advocate who will focus on science, regardless of the political implications, and Beck fits that role very well. I will provide more details in future posts detailing why policy makers and others should dismiss these smear campaigns against Beck. Stay tuned.