Incoming Biden Administration Faces Call to Bolster U.S. Chemical Safety Board
A prominent environmental group is calling on president-elect Joe Biden to prioritize the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a small but vital agency that’s been left “on life-support” by the outgoing administration.
Trump Has Undermined Chemical Safety Board Since Taking Office
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is tasked with determining the root cause of major chemical disasters in the United States, including those that occur at plants and refineries. Although it has no enforcement power to assess fines for safety lapses that contribute to these catastrophes, the Board’s non-binding recommendations are frequently adopted by regulators and industries and have been credited with saving countless lives.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration has been working to undermine the Chemical Safety Board ever since the current president came to office in January 2017. For example, while the Board’s $12 million annual budget is small by federal standards, Trump has attempted to eliminate that funding in every omnibus budget proposal released since 2017. However, each attempt was thwarted by Congress, even drawing opposition from the president’s own party.
The statute establishing the Chemical Safety Board requires that it have five members. But because President Trump has refused to fill any vacancies during his time in office, it has operated with just one member for more than a year. According to critics of the administration, those ongoing vacancies have left the Board incapable of doing its job.
Chemical Safety Board Issued No New Recommendations in 2020
“Fiscal year 2020 appears to be the first in the agency’s 23-year history when no new safety recommendations were issued, compared to a prior average of about 38 per year since the agency was established,” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said in a report released earlier this month. “Issuing safety recommendations to federal regulatory agencies is one of the three enumerated statutory duties of the CSB under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.”
Additionally, the report points out that the Board now “omits ‘protecting workers’ from the agency’s mission statement” and only completed and issued one report during 2020.
While the United States is one of the top chemical producers globally, the current situation at the Chemical Safety Board means there is “no effective oversight agency to monitor industrial accidents and improve plant safety,” PEER told Government Executive. “We hope the Biden administration makes reinvigorating the CSB a top priority.”
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