The Biden administration appears to have intervened in a supposedly nonpartisan science review, manufacturing a paper trail in support of its environmental justice efforts targeting a major chemical plant, according to court filings reviewed by Fox News Digital.
In stunning testimony late last year, Michael Morton — who serves as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6 science liaison to the EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) in Washington, D.C. — admitted that he didn’t author a key July 2021 email sent from his email address. That email called off a scientific review of health risks associated with chloroprene emissions which are at the center of an ongoing federal lawsuit with vast economic implications.
“I didn’t write that,” Morton told lawyers for synthetics manufacturer Denka Performance Elastomer (DPE) during a deposition in November. “I didn’t say that. For – for that part, I didn’t – I don’t know that, so I don’t know who wrote that,” he added when pressed on the email.
Morton’s testimony and revelations from additional information made public in recent months may ultimately derail the Biden administration’s lawsuit against DPE which, if successful, could threaten the future operations of the company’s major manufacturing facility in LaPlace, Louisiana, and further set a precedent broadly threatening the multi-billion-dollar U.S. petrochemical industry.
In February 2023, the Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against DPE on behalf of EPA, seeking to compel the chemical maker’s LaPlace facility — the so-called Pontchartrain Works Site which represents the only U.S. plant to produce neoprene, a synthetic rubber common in military equipment, wetsuits and medical technology — to reduce emissions of chloroprene. Chloroprene is a liquid raw material emitted during neoprene manufacturing.
According to the lawsuit, the plant’s emissions pose a cancer risk to residents in Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, and therefore present an “imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare.”
“When I visited Saint John the Baptist Parish during my first Journey to Justice tour, I pledged to the community that EPA would take strong action to protect the health and safety of families from harmful chloroprene emissions from the Denka facility,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said after the lawsuit was filed, adding that DPE hasn’t “moved far enough or fast enough” to reduce emissions.
Less than one month later, the Justice Department filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the case, essentially asking the court to enforce a shutdown of DPE’s neoprene facility if the company failed to immediately implement substantial emissions reductions. Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim said the motion “shows our determination to address environmental justice concerns.”
DPE said in a response motion months later that the federal government’s actions are “tantamount to a shutdown order that would have catastrophic consequences for DPE,” adding that it would lead to “complete loss of revenue streams, substantial loss of work force, supply chain disruptions and contractual impacts, and regulatory challenges.”
The company also characterized the Biden administration’s efforts against it as politically driven, unsupported by real-world science, and outside its legal authority under the Clean Air Act. DPE pointed to how its LaPlace facility has sharply curbed its chloroprene emissions and complied with environmental permits.
DPE also pointed to Louisiana Tumor Registry data showing that St. John the Baptist Parish, the region where its neoprene facility is located, has recorded one of the lowest cancer rates of any region in the state.
And, notably, DPE has criticized EPA for basing its lawsuit largely on a study the agency published in 2010 concluding chloroprene is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” That study, which itself cites 25-year-old studies of female mice, led to the strict emissions standard of 0.2 micrograms of chloroprene per cubic meter air that the EPA is seeking to enforce on DPE’s facility in LaPlace.
DPE and Lousiana lawmakers have for years sought EPA action to reassess that tight standard, arguing in favor of additional study and scientific review, arguing the 2010 study overestimated chloroprene’s cancer risk to humans.
In addition to Morton’s testimony, DPE counsel submitted in court filings metadata of his email showing it was originally authored by ORD officials.
The revelations suggest that, to walk back the nomination of chloroprene, ORD cited an email purportedly from Region 6, but which it appears to have actually crafted and sent to itself using Morton’s email address.
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