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Trump’s Refusal to Fill Vacancies Endangers U.S. Chemical Safety Board Operations

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The U.S. Chemical Safety Board could soon fail to function, thanks to President Trump’s refusal to fill a growing number of vacancies.

Chemical Safety Board Investigates Major Plant Explosions

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is an independent federal agency that determines the root cause of major chemical disasters at plants and refineries throughout the United States. Although it has no power to levy fines, the Board does make recommendations to prevent similar incidents.

In the past, those recommendations have led to industry-wide changes that likely saved countless lives.

In just the past few months alone, Chemical Safety Board investigators have been deployed to the KMCO chemical plant explosion in Crosby, Texas; the ITC Deer-Park tank fire near Houston, Texas; and the AB Specialty Silicones explosion in Waukegan, Illinois.

Because of Unfilled Vacancies, Board Down to 3 Members

The Chemical Safety Board must have five board members by law, and only the President may make those appointments.

At the moment, however, the Board has only three members. So far, President Trump has opted not to extend  current members’ terms before they expire or make new appointments to fill the resulting vacancies.

To make matters worse, all of the remaining members’ terms will expire over the next 14 months: One in December, another in February 2020, and a third in August 2020.

For nearly a year, the Chemical Safety Board has also functioned without a permanent chairperson, even though members of Congress have repeatedly urged the President to nominate someone to fill the crucial spot.

Entire Board Could be Vacant by August 2020

According to a new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), the continuing vacancies are now threatening to derail the Board’s vital mission.

“It took an average of 10.5 months to confirm the current members after they were nominated,” the OIG noted. “Following this timeline, there is a risk that if no new members are nominated and confirmed in the next several months in anticipation of expiring terms, the governing body will not have enough members to maintain full functionality by February 2020 and may even have no members by August 2020.”

Because the regulatory language governing the Chemical Safety Board is unclear, it’s not certain “whether a single board member may constitute a quorum” needed for decision-making, the oversight report says.

“Regardless,” the OIG continues, “it is clear that allowing the board to reduce to one or zero members will deeply impair the ability of the board to conduct such critical business as deciding which investigations to open and the finalization of reports.”

Trump Tried to Abolish Chemical Safety Board Funding

President Trump’s reluctance to fill vacancies on the Chemical Safety Board isn’t all that surprising.

Although the Board’s $12 million annual budget is miniscule by federal standards, his administration has eliminated that funding in all three omnibus budget proposals submitted to Congress since 2017.

“It’s a remarkably stupid move,” Mike Wright, the United Steelworkers’ director of health, safety and environment, recently told Bloomberg News. “In my opinion, they are one of the best bargains in Washington.”

Congress – including members of the President’s own party – have stepped in each time to restore the Board’s funding. Unfortunately, there’s apparently nothing lawmakers can do to force the White House to fill the current or future vacancies that now threaten its entire ability to operate.

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