CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When President Obama named Lisa Jackson to be his Environmental Protection Agency administrator, advocates for tougher regulation of the toxic chemical C8 were optimistic.
Read more in the Sustained Outrage blog.
As New Jersey’s top environmental regulator, Jackson had set the toughest C8 guideline in the country – a drinking water standard of 0.04 parts per billion of C8, also known as PFOA.
Now those advocates are worried. Last month, Jackson named lawyer Robert M. Sussman to be her “senior policy counsel,” to advise her on energy and environmental issues across EPA’s broad regulatory authority.
For several years, Sussman represented 3M Corp., helping the agency deal with EPA efforts to understand – and perhaps regulate – what C8 and similar chemicals are doing to public health and the environment.
Sussman worked for EPA during the Clinton administration and later became a partner in the Washington office of the Los Angeles law firm, Latham & Watkins.
After retiring from the law firm, Sussman became a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank run by John Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.
Last week, a lawyer for residents of three states where these perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, have polluted drinking water wrote to Jackson to urge her to ban Sussman from any involvement in these issues.
“What is not clear … is the scope of the policy issues for which USEPA will be looking to Mr. Sussman to provide counsel,” wrote Robert A. Bilott, who represents residents in West Virginia, New Jersey and Minnesota whose drinking water is contaminated.
“The scope of those interactions is of concern to us because of the extent to which Mr. Sussman was directly involved in representing the interests of perfluorochemicals manufacturers in negotiations with USEPA while he was a partner at Latham & Watkins,” Bilott wrote.
“Because current issues will likely require your office to assess what particular policies to pursue with respect to perfluoro-chemical contamination of drinking water supplies, we are concerned by the conflict that could arise if Mr. Sussman were involved in any way with any of those issues while at USEPA,” he wrote.
Bilott asked that EPA “confirm that Mr. Sussman will have no involvement of any kind in any perfluoro-chemical issues while working at USEPA, including any negotiations within the agency or with outside parties, preparation or transmittal of communications within the agency, to or from other agencies at the state or federal level, or to or from the public (including the press and Congressional staffs), or other contacts.”
Also, Bilott asked that EPA “detail the specific procedures that have been put or are being put in place to ensure that Mr. Sussman has no involvement whatsoever with any perfluoro-chemical issues while working for USEPA, and we request that USEPA provide copies of documentation specifying the procedures established to address this situation.”
Sussman did not return a phone message left on his voice mail at EPA headquarters last week.
On Friday, EPA press secretary Adora Andy said Sussman would be recused from these issues, but declined to provide further details on the scope and mechanics of that recusal.
With his letter, Bilott sent EPA more than 100 pages of documents that outline some of Sussman’s involvement in C8-related issues for St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M.
For more than 50 years, 3M produced C8 and related chemicals used in popular products such as Scotchgard and Teflon.
In May 2000, 3M announced it was phasing out production of these chemicals. 3M officials took that step after learning of a DuPont Co. study in which monkeys exposed to C8 had to be killed because they were suffering from such severe health effects, according to government records. 3M also moved to phase out C8 production after being warned the EPA was considering more strictly regulating such chemicals.
3M is still facing a lawsuit from Minnesota residents who say their drinking water has been contaminated with PFCs from the company’s operations. And 3M was very involved in a now-abandoned EPA “enforceable consent agreement,” or ECA, process, meant to lead to tougher regulation of these chemicals.
Among other things, the documents Bilott sent to EPA show Sussman was involved in justifying private discussions 3M had with EPA during the ECA process, which was supposed to be conducted in public.
“We understand EPA has some questions about the appropriateness of direct discussions like today’s call while the ECA process is still ongoing,” Sussman wrote in a May 2004 e-mail message. “We’ve thought about this issue and don’t see such discussions as a ‘process foul.’
“We see great value in senior managers from industry periodically touching base with their counterparts at EPA,” Sussman wrote. “This enables us – as we’re doing today – to provide candid feedback on the successes and frustrations of the ECA process and how we can make it more productive.”