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Down to One Member, U.S. Chemical Safety Board Remains on Trump’s Hit List


The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is down to one member, yet another sign of the Trump administration’s determination to gut the well-regarded investigative agency.

Chemical Safety Board Probes Major Plant and Refinery Explosions

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is tasked with determining the root cause of major chemical disasters that occur in the United States, including plant and refinery explosions. Although it has no power to levy fines, the Board’s non-binding recommendations are frequently adopted by regulators and industries and have been credited with saving countless lives.

By law, the Chemical Safety Board must have five members, all of whom are to be appointed by the president. Unfortunately, President Trump’s hostility towards the agency and its mission is hardly a secret.  Although the Board’s $12 million annual budget is minuscule by federal standards, his administration has eliminated that funding in all three omnibus budget proposals released since 2017.

Fortunately, Congress – including members of the president’s own party – has opted to restore funding every single time.

Industry Groups Oppose Trump’s Attacks on Chemical Safety Board

President Trump has also declined to extend Board members’ terms before they expire or make new appointments to fill the resulting vacancies. Now the Chemical Safety Board counts only one member, Chairperson Katherine Lemos, Trump’s sole appointee.

According to Reuters, Lemos apparently plans to keep the Chemical Safety Board functioning with just a “quorum of one.” Under that arrangement, she would have sole authority to issue final reports and change the status of recommendations the Board makes to industry and regulatory agencies.

Labor groups – as well as groups that represent the very industries it investigates — are opposed to the Trump administration’s efforts to gut the Board’s budget and leave positions unfilled.

“The CSB is one of the best deals in Washington,” Michael Wright, a safety official with the United Steelworkers union, told Reuters. “Three of Donald Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago are equal to the CSB’s entire budget. Which is a better deal for the American people?”

“We support the CSB having all its members and the board being adequately funded,” said Scott Jensen, a spokesperson the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of U.S. chemical makers. “We’ve not said that to the White House, we’ve said that to Congress.”

Lack of Quorum Leaves 13 Pending Investigations in Limbo

Since 1998, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has looked into some of the nation’s worst industrial disasters, including the Deepwater Horizon blowout that left 11 dead in April 2010, as well as the March 2005 explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, that killed 15 workers and injured 180.

In just the past year alone, the Board has deployed investigators to the KMCO chemical plant explosion in Crosby, Texas; the ITC Deer-Park tank fire near Houston, Texas;  the fatal Chesapeake Energy blowout in Burleson County, Texas, and the deadly Watson Grinding explosion earlier this year in Houston.

Last Friday, technical problems forced the postponement of a meeting that was to include discussion of plans to operate with just a single member, as well as the possible release of findings from the Chemical Safety Board’s investigation into the 2018 explosion at Kuraray America’s chemical plant in Pasadena, Texas. So far, that meeting has not been rescheduled.

With only one member and no contingency plan, the Board currently lacks the quorum needed to issue final reports from any of its 13 pending investigations.  At the moment, it’s work has slowed to a crawl, and all of those probes are stuck in limbo.

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