406 Dirksen EPW Hearing Room
Frank R. Lautenberg
Welcome to today’s hearing on the Chemical Safety Board and its vital role in maintaining the safety of our chemical plants and protecting their employees and surrounding communities.
Today is the first oversight hearing this Committee has held on the Board’s work since its creation.
I am proud to have had a hand in the creation and funding for this Board, which does such critical work.
The Board investigates the causes of serious accidents at chemical plants, oil refineries and industrial facilities, and then makes recommendations to facility owners, industry officials, and government agencies on how to better protect workers and the public.
In March 2005, the Board was called in to investigate after a series of explosions rocked a British Petroleum refinery in Texas. It killed 15 workers, and injured 180 people. It was America’s worst industrial accident in 15 years.
The Board found “warning signs of a possible disaster were present for several years, but company officials did not intervene effectively to prevent it.”
The Board concluded that BP paid too much attention to its bottom line and not enough to plant safety. They cut costs even with aging safety equipment—and used equipment they knew was unsafe.
The accident in Texas may be the most catastrophic one the Board has investigated, but it’s not the only one.
In fact, the Board has completed 42 investigations since its creation, including two in New Jersey. Right now, it is working on five more.
The Board’s work has led to more plant inspections, better protections for workers, and more attention to safety issues in corporate board rooms.
But even though it prevents injuries and saves lives, the Board needs more funding to investigate accidents.
It has been level-funded for three straight years, whereas a small increase would provide three more investigators and allow the Board to expand its efforts to more plants.
I am also concerned that the Board still meets resistance while doing its work.
Last November, a chemical explosion at an ink manufacturing plant damaged some 70 homes in Danvers, Massachusetts.
When the Board went to investigate, the local fire marshal blocked them from entering the site for nearly a week.
During that time, crucial evidence may have been lost.
The Chemical Safety Board was modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board and it needs similar clear authority and access to these sites to do its work.
The EPA also has a responsibility to ensure that plants meet their obligations to protect nearby communities and the environment.
I hope we will hear from EPA today about its oversight of the BP refinery in Texas City, and its program to monitor and inspect other facilities that use hazardous chemicals.
EPA must work with the Chemical Safety Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and state and local officials to ensure facilities operate safely.
Support for the CSB, will help save lives, protect communities, and reduce costly shutdowns.
In the coming weeks, I will be drafting legislation to strengthen the CSB and improve its operating ability to investigate the root causes of accidents.
I hope this Committee will use the lessons learned from the Board's past investigations and the testimony presented today as a basis for approving the changes that are necessary.