WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at a hearing titled “Stakeholder Perspectives on the Importance of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.”
The hearing featured testimony from Chris Jahn, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council; Shakeel Kadri, executive director and CEO of the Center for Chemical Process Safety at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; and Steve Sallman, assistant director of Health, Safety, and Environment and member of United Steelworkers.
For more information on witness testimony click here.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Today, we will consider stakeholder perspectives on the importance of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board – more commonly known as the Chemical Safety Board.
“Congress established the Chemical Safety Board in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and began funding the agency in 1998.
“Its mission is to investigate the facts, conditions, circumstances, and cause or probable cause of accidental chemical releases that result in loss of life, serious injury, or serious property damage.
“The board also issues corrective actions and recommendations for the purposes of improving chemical production, processing, handling, and storage.
“The board’s main role is fact-finding and analysis.
“For this reason, Congress excluded the board’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations from use in litigation arising from accidents.
“The board serves a critical role in helping us understand why chemical accidents take place and the steps needed to ensure these accidents do not happen again.
“The board also plays an important role in helping the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration better protect the general public and workers.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to keep the board functioning.
“We should have a five-member board, but currently, it is without a chairperson and has been reduced to two members.
“The term of one of those board members expires next Thursday, February 6th.
“By the end of next week, the Chemical Safety Board will have just one member.
“This is completely unacceptable.
“Last summer, President Trump nominated Dr. Katherine Lemos – a former official at the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board – to serve as chairperson of the board.
“In September, this committee approved her nomination unanimously.
“A Democratic hold has prevented her nomination from clearing the Senate.
“If this continues for another week, it ‘will deeply impair the ability of the board to conduct such critical business as deciding which investigations to open and the finalization of reports.’
“These aren’t my words – these words come from EPA’s inspector general.
“We collectively cannot let that happen.
“We must get Dr. Lemos confirmed.
“I would note that over the weekend a chemical explosion killed two workers at a manufacture plant in Houston.
“It made the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
“We also need to fill the remaining vacancies on the Chemical Safety Board.
“This is an agency that needs strong, qualified, and impartial leadership.
“EPA’s inspector general has stated that ‘historically, the Chemical Safety Board has been plagued with leadership issues such as tension among board members, disputes over the chairperson’s authorities, and complaints of alleged abuses by board members or the chairperson.’
“In the middle of the Obama administration, the board’s former chairperson resigned and its general counsel and managing director were later forced out.
“According to EPA’s inspector general, management challenges continue to exist.
“More recent examples have included: a board member filing public comments on an EPA proposed rule prior to the board adopting an official position on the rule; a board member engaging in inappropriate communications with stakeholders.
“This behavior severely undermined morale among the board’s personnel.
“In response to these incidents, the inspector general has recommended that the board develop guidance on board member responsibilities.
“It has also recommended the board request that Congress amend the Clean Air Act to strengthen the role and authority of the chairperson.
“For these reasons, I’m glad we have a panel of distinguished witnesses, who represent key stakeholders who are here with us today.
“They will help us better understand: the board’s role, mission, and performance; opportunities for improvement and reform; and how the work of the board is critical to their own safety initiatives.
“Thank you all for joining us today.”