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Trump’s Government Shutdown Forces U.S. Chemical Safety Board to Suspend All Investigations


The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the small federal agency charged with investigating major plant, refinery, and pipeline explosions, has virtually ceased to function because of President Trump’s government shutdown.

Chemical Safety Board Had Fewer Than 50 Staff Before Shutdown

Since its creation under the Clean Air Act in 1990, the Chemical Safety Board has investigated 130 explosions and accidents responsible for more than 200 deaths and 1,200 injuries.

Though the Board has no enforcement authority, the recommendations that result from its investigations have led to industry-wide changes that likely saved countless lives.

Despite its impressive achievements, the Chemical Safety Board remains one of the smallest federal agencies, with fewer than 50 staff and a budget that’s never topped $11 million.

“It’s a vitally important agency that has an outsize impact for a very small budget,” Glenn Ruskin, communications director for the American Chemical Society, recently told “The safety board is an honest broker at identifying problems, and industry appreciates having that.”

95% of Chemical Safety Board Employees Now on Furlough

Unfortunately, the Chemical Safety Board is among the agencies hardest-hit by the partial government shutdown.

Thomas Zoeller, the Board’s senior advisor, recently told that about 95% of  employees are on furlough, forcing it to suspend all current investigations.

“We’re just very hopeful that a resolution will be quickly made, and we can resume operations as soon as possible,” Zoeller said.

The Board’s few remaining staffers will decide when to deploy a team to incidents that occur during the shutdown.

“There was just an incident in Houston his past weekend that we’re not even considering deploying to,” Vidisha Parasram, a Board investigator and the director of incident screening, said during a January 11th listening session in Fairfax, Virginia.

Parasram may have been referring to the January 5th pipeline fire that seriously injured two contractors near the LyondellBassell oil refinery in southeast Houston.

Under normal circumstances, there’s a good chance the Board would have deployed a team to that accident.

Trump Administration Sought to Eliminate Chemical Safety Board

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board was facing hard times even before the government shutdown.

In fact, since President Trump took office, his administration has made two attempts to eliminate the Board entirely.

The Chemical Safety Board was also in the midst of  a severe staffing shortage, as roughly half of its investigators have opted to leave the agency in the Trump era.

What’s more, some current and former staffers recently told The Wall Street Journal that they’ve been pressured to take a less aggressive approach to both investigations and the resulting regulatory recommendations.

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