WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing, “Stakeholder perspectives on the importance of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery.
“Good morning. Today our committee will discuss the importance of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The Board has investigated everything from the BP Oil spill, to fatal refinery accidents, to the chemical explosions caused by flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“Regrettably, this Administration has failed to support the agency financially. In fact, each and every one of the president’s last three budget proposals have called for the Board’s elimination. Fortunately, though, Congress has rightfully rejected President Trump’s repeated efforts to dismantle the Chemical Safety Board.
“After chemicals at the Arkema facility in Texas exploded during Hurricane Harvey because there was no electricity to keep those chemicals cold, I asked the Chemical Safety Board to investigate. The Board recommended that chemical facilities need to do more to plan for the extreme weather events like hurricanes, flooding and wildfires that climate change is causing and will continue to cause.
“The Trump Administration is not requiring anyone to plan for or mitigate against the effects of climate change. As we all know, this administration is doing just the opposite. President Trump even rescinded Obama Administration Executive Orders that required federally funded projects to be built to better withstand flood risks and help communities rebuild stronger and smarter following extreme weather damage. That leaves the Chemical Safety Board as the only federal entity that is providing guidance to mitigate the costly and often dangerous impacts of climate change under the Trump Administration.
“Similarly, the Chemical Safety Board is set to soon finalize a rule that will require immediate public reporting of chemical releases. By contrast, the Trump Administration recently weakened an EPA rule that would have better informed communities about the potential dangers of chemicals stored nearby.
The Trump Administration also weakened a portion of the EPA rule that would have required the chemical industry to consider whether alternative chemicals or processes could reduce the consequences of a chemical safety accident. This EPA rule was developed after an explosion leveled the town of West, Texas and killed 15 people in 2013. The Chemical Safety Board investigated the incident and determined that different ways of handling the chemicals could have prevented the accident from happening in the first place.
In addition to protecting communities, the Chemical Safety Board also plays a vital role in protecting workers. Right now, the Board is reviewing seven serious chemical safety incidents that occurred in Texas, some of which resulted in worker fatalities. One of these incidents occurred just last week, when a chemical exploded at the Watson chemical facility in Houston, claiming the life of one worker.
“Other recent incidents took place at refineries, some of which store hydrofluoric acid on site. Hydrofluoric acid is so dangerous that it could quickly hurt or kill tens of thousands of people or more if a release occurred in a densely populated area.
“In fact, today, the Board is still investigating the massive explosion that occurred at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery in South Philadelphia some seven months ago. Thankfully, the explosion did not result in the large-scale release of hydrofluoric acid, which could have caused mass casualties.
“The Trump Administration has weakened several environmental and safety rules that protect workers – again, leaving the Chemical Safety Board as the sole voice providing recommendations to industry that could help protect workers and communities.
“I believe everyone here today agrees that the Chemical Safety Board must continue to be provided with the resources it needs to do its job. High among the resources needed are five qualified, nominated and confirmed Board members.
“Next week, when Rick Engler’s term expires, there will be only one Board Member left. Even if the only nominee this President has nominated to the Board – Katherine Lemos – is confirmed before then, the Board will again be left with only one Member in August when Kristen Kulinowski’s term expires.
“There are currently 53 Republican Senators and only 47 Democrats. Majority Leader McConnell is free to schedule a vote to confirm Dr. Lemos anytime he wants to – and, frankly, I suspect he would have even more than 53 votes to do that.
“The Majority Leader has found the time to schedule votes to confirm lots of nominees. For example, he scheduled a vote to confirm Aurelia Skipwith, whose confirmation hearing in front of this Committee was on the exact same day as Katherine Lemos’.
“Let’s set the record straight. The potential absence of a quorum at the Chemical Safety Board is no one’s fault except President Trump’s, who has tried again and again to eliminate the agency entirely and failed for three years now to nominate more than a single Board Member to serve.
“And with that, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. We thank our witnesses for joining us today and look forward to your testimony.”