The lawyer nominated to run the Superfund toxic cleanup program is steeped in the complexities of restoring polluted rivers and chemical dumps. He spent more than a decade on one of the nation’s most extensive cleanups, one involving Dow Chemical’s sprawling headquarters in Midland, Mich.
But while he led Dow’s legal strategy there, the chemical giant was accused by regulators, and in one case a Dow engineer, of submitting disputed data, misrepresenting scientific evidence and delaying cleanup, according to internal documents and court records as well as interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the project.
The lawyer, Peter C. Wright, was nominated in March by President Trump to be assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency overseeing the Superfund program, which was created decades ago to clean up the nation’s most hazardous toxic waste sites. He is already working at the agency in an advisory role as he awaits congressional approval. If confirmed, Mr. Wright would also oversee the emergency response to chemical spills and other hazardous releases nationwide.
E.P.A. officials pointed to Mr. Wright’s expertise in environmental law and his tenure at Dow as valuable qualifications. The White House on Saturday referred questions to the E.P.A.
He spent 19 years at Dow, one of the world’s largest chemical makers, and once described himself in a court deposition as “the company’s dioxin lawyer.” He was assigned to the Midland cleanup in 2003, and later became a lead negotiator in talks with the E.P.A. It was during his work on the cleanup that the agency criticized Dow for the cleanup delays, testing lapses and other missteps.
For more than a century, the Dow complex manufactured a range of products including Saran wrap, Styrofoam, Agent Orange and mustard gas. Over time, Dow released effluents into the Tittabawassee River, leading to dioxin contamination stretching more than 50 miles along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers and into Lake Huron.
Dow, which merged with rival DuPont last year, is among the companies most affected by Superfund cleanups nationwide, E.P.A. data shows. The combined company is listed as potentially having responsibility in almost 14 percent of sites on the E.P.A.’s list of priority Superfund cleanups, or 171 locations nationwide.
Mr. Wright has pledged to recuse himself from cleanups related to his former employer, a move welcomed by even one of the administration’s congressional critics.
Still, his appointment “raises all kinds of red flags, and it makes his job more difficult in the sense that he will be watched every second,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who led the E.P.A. under President George W. Bush and who has criticized the agency under the Trump administration.
In recent months, the E.P.A. under its former chief, Scott Pruitt, has been beset by ethics investigations, and an earlier choice to run the Superfund program, a former banker with no experience in toxic cleanups, ultimately resigned. Mr. Pruitt himself stepped down this month, having launched major regulatory rollbacks at the E.P.A. while striking an industry-friendly stance that his successor, Andrew Wheeler, is expected to continue.