January 16, 2019

Duckworth Presses EPA Nominee Andrew Wheeler over EPA’s Efforts to Prevent Ethylene Oxide Emissions Testing & Undermine Renewable Fuel Standard

Duckworth questioned why large, profitable oil refineries are receiving “hardship waivers” exempting them from Renewable Fuel Standard requirements


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today questioned Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator nominee Andrew Wheeler during his Senate confirmation hearing over the EPA’s failure to protect vulnerable communities from cancer-causing ethylene oxide emissions. Duckworth has been a strong advocate for residents in Illinois communities with facilities like Sterigenics and Medline that produce ethylene oxide emissions and has repeatedly asked the EPA to update its safety standards that regulate the carcinogen. Today, she pressed Wheeler to answer for why no EPA staff are currently inspecting any facilities that emit ethylene oxide in Region 5 or across the country. Video of Duckworth and Wheeler’s exchange at the committee hearing is available here.

“We know that ethylene oxide is a dangerous toxin that poses a public health risk for communities in Illinois, which is why the allegation that political staff at EPA have ordered the civil servants there not to inspect any facility in our region that emits ethylene oxide is so alarming. Yesterday evening when we checked EPA’s public enforcement and compliance website, we discovered that no ethylene oxide inspection has happened since EPA discovered that an increased cancer risk exists for the community next to Sterigenics,” Duckworth said. “That’s unacceptable. I’m planning on asking the EPA Inspector General to launch an internal investigation and I asked Acting Administrator Wheeler to support that investigation today.”

Duckworth also pressed Wheeler on the importance of protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) from efforts within the Trump Administration to undermine it.

Over the last six months, we have also seen more ethanol plants sold, idled or closed than ever before, yet the EPA is granting large oil refining companies like Exxon and Chevron ‘hardship’ waivers that boost their profits. I asked Mr. Wheeler to immediately end this abusive practice,” Duckworth added.

Duckworth has been a vocal supporter of the RFS, which supports a $5 billion biofuel industry in Illinois that employs more than 4,000 people. She has joined farmers across Illinois in urging the EPA to adopt higher ethanol-based fuel requirements and she has been critical of efforts within the Trump Administration to undermine it and to grant waivers to profitable large oil refineries and allow them to avoid having to meet RFS requirements at a time when a growing number of ethanol plants are idling.

Duckworth also emphasized the critical importance of entirely eliminating the risk of lead poisoning for children and she expressed her disappointment that the Trump Administration’s new lead action plan has an objective of merely reducing the risk of childhood lead poisoning, instead of eliminating it entirely. Deputy Administrator Wheeler committed to her that EPA would adopt the goal of eliminating lead risk, not simply reducing it.

As the top Democrat on the Senate Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee, Duckworth has been outspoken about the need to reduce exposure to lead poisoning and has been a leader in Congress on this issue, having introduced many pieces of legislation to eliminate lead in America’s drinking water. Before the Trump Administration released its updated strategy to address lead poisoning in December, she and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) had asked Trump Administration cabinet officials to explain why the strategy’s release had been delayed for many months.