Chairman Boxer to Investigate West, Texas Chemical Disaster
Vows to get answers on disaster causes and close gaps in chemical safety laws
April 30, 2013

Washington, DC- Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), announced that the EPW Committee will conduct oversight into the circumstances surrounding the chemical disaster in West, Texas, as well as an examination of the chemical safety laws that apply to comparable facilities. The explosion, which occurred on April 17, 2013, resulted in fifteen fatalities, hundreds of injuries, and damage to homes, businesses, and the adjacent rail line.

In preparation for a hearing, Senator Boxer asked a series of questions about how the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan to follow up on the West, Texas investigation, including the enforcement of current law.

Senator Boxer said: "I cannot rest until we get to the bottom of what caused the disaster in West, Texas and the tragic loss of life. It is critical that we find out how this happened. We must ensure that facilities like the one in West are complying with chemical safety laws. We will look at how the laws on the books are being enforced and whether there is a need to strengthen them. I plan to schedule an oversight hearing in the EPW Committee in the near future."

The text of the letters sent to the CSB and EPA are below:

April 30, 2013


The Honorable Rafael Moure-Eraso
Chairman
U.S. Chemical Safety Board
2175 K Street, N.W., Suite 400
Washington, DC 20037

Dear Chairman Moure-Eraso,

As Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, with jurisdiction over the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), I am writing to express my deepest concern about the massive fire and explosion at the West, Texas facility on April 17, 2013. It is imperative that the CSB make every effort to ensure that a comprehensive investigation is completed into the causes of this disaster.

The devastating events at the West facility earlier this month have resulted in fifteen fatalities, hundreds of injuries, and damage to homes, businesses, and the adjacent rail line. By fully assessing the circumstances that led to this terrible event, we can help make sure that local, state, and federal chemical accident prevention and emergency response programs have the tools they need to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

As the lead federal agency charged with investigating chemical accidents at industrial facilities, the CSB will play a vital role in our understanding of the causes of this disaster.

I am asking for the following:

(1) Please describe the CSB's plans to investigate the explosion at the West facility, including the scope and timelines of the investigation.

(2) Please provide a list and description of all recommendations you have made in the past relating to reducing risks at facilities that handle highly explosive and toxic materials and whether they have been adopted by government or industry.

(3) Please identify the recipients of these recommendations.

Please respond to these questions by May 16, 2013.

I greatly appreciate your attention to this request, as I plan to hold hearings on this issue in the near future.

If you have any questions, please have your staff contact Grant Cope or Tom Fox at 202-224-8832.

Sincerely,

 

Barbara Boxer
Chairman
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

________________________________________

April 30, 2013


The Honorable Bob Perciasepe
Acting Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Acting Administrator Perciasepe,

As Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, with jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), I am writing to express my deepest concern about the massive fire and explosion at the West, Texas facility on April 17, 2013. I want to ensure that a comprehensive investigation is completed by EPA so that the causes of this terrible tragedy are clearly identified and so that this type of disaster is prevented from happening in the future.

EPA, along with others, plays a vital role in preventing accidents like the one at the West facility, which resulted in fifteen fatalities, hundreds of injuries, and damage to homes, businesses, and the adjacent rail line.

By May 16, 2013, I ask that you respond to the information request below:

1) Describe EPA's investigation of the West, Texas facility, including timelines and scope.

2) Sec. 112I of the Clean Air Act, including the general duty clause, was passed to enhance safety and reduce the risk from explosive chemicals. The press has reported that the West facility stored large amounts of ammonium nitrate, which can be highly explosive. Why is ammonium nitrate not on the list of covered chemicals that facilities must report to EPA under the Risk Management Program?

3) Please provide a list of all chemicals regulated through the Risk Management Program under Section 112I and the types of uncovered chemicals EPA could add to the list or otherwise address under the general duty clause of Sec. 112I.

4) Provide me with a list of all chemicals that facilities are required to report to state or local emergency planning authorities but are not required to report to EPA.

5) How many facilities fall under Sec. 112I of the Clean Air Act and where are they located?

6) How often are those covered facilities inspected by EPA officials?

7) Who at EPA has lead responsibility for Sec. 112I of the Clean Air Act, and how does EPA ensure that oversight is regularly conducted at covered facilities?

8) Describe any and all fines issued against the West facility for failing to comply with safety standards related to chemicals.

9) Explain how EPA works with other agencies at the local, state, and federal level to plan for accident prevention.

10) Describe how EPA can ensure that information about chemical accident prevention and emergency response could be distributed more widely to responsible authorities, including through electronic databases.

I greatly appreciate your attention to this request, as I plan to hold a hearing on this issue in the near future.

If you have any questions, please have your staff contact Grant Cope or Tom Fox at 202-224-8832.

Sincerely,

 

Barbara Boxer
Chairman
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

###

 





Majority Office
410 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.Washington, DC 20510-6175
phone: 202-224-6176
Minority Office
456 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.Washington, DC 20510-6175
phone: 202-224-8832