| March 17
March 17 President Donald Trump's proposal to do
away with the federal agency that investigates chemical
accidents drew sharp criticism from environmental, labor and
safety advocates, who said that eliminating the watchdog would
put American lives at risk.
Christine Todd Whitman, the former U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency head, on Thursday called the proposal to get
rid of Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and cut EPA funding
short-sighted, saying both have long been an industry target for
advocating greater public information on chemicals.
"If you want to put the American people in danger this is
the way to do it," she said of the president's proposal to cut
the CSB's funding entirely from the 2018 federal budget. "The
chemical industry has fought back from the beginning."
The CSB investigates major chemicals accidents to search for
their causes and makes recommendations that could prevent a
recurrence. It has no regulatory power, but is influential
because its recommendations are often adopted by industry,
labor, government officials, the EPA and Occupational Safety and
The president on Thursday outlined a plan for fiscal 2018
discretionary spending, which exclude programs like Social
Security, that removes allocations for 19 independent bodies,
including the CSB and Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The CSB, which has an annual budget of about $12 million,
defended its work, saying its work has broadly improved safety.
"As this process moves forward, we hope that the important
mission of this agency will be preserved," the agency said in a
Chemical and energy industry officials offered limited
comment on the proposal. Petroleum and refining industry groups,
Exxon Mobil Corp, BP plc and Tesoro Corp
did not respond or declined to comment directly on the potential
The American Chemistry Council, a trade group that
represents major chemicals producers, said in a statement it
would work with the administration and Congress to "ensure EPA
has funding to carry out essential responsibilities." It did not
comment directly on the CSB.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry trade
group, said it looked "forward to working with the
administration and Congress as all of these issues work their
way through the budget process."
Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment
at the United Steelworkers union, said the CSB's recommendations
generally have been welcome by labor and industry. One such
recommendation that stemmed from a fatal 2005 refinery incident
included barring portable trailers that cannot withstand an
The board's reviews of major accidents have proved
significant. Its probes have led to industry standards on worker
fatigue, greater reporting of hazardous chemicals to first
responders, and have prompted companies to keep workers not
directly involved in projects out of harm's way.
In California, many of the board’s safety recommendations
have been drafted into law. For example, the state worker safety
agency, known as Cal/OSHA, has doubled its investigative staff
based on CSB recommendations.
"This is one of the best bargains in Washington," said the
USW's Wright. "If it has prevented even one accident, it has
saved far more money than its budget over its entire history."
Its probe of the fatal Deepwater Horizon rig explosion was
controversial because of its two-year length and extensive need
for outside help. The work led to new standards for safety in
the offshore oil industry and in well equipment.
But some recommendations have not been yet been implemented.
After a fatal 2013 explosion in West, Texas, that killed 12
first responders the CSB proposed facilities that store large
amounts of fertilizer be covered by emergency planning laws that
give first responders more information. That remains open.
Beth Rosenberg, a former CSB board member and now an
assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, said
the CSB "does excellent work; other countries admire this
agency." She said opponents "don't know what they're doing here
or how useful this board is."
(Additional reporting by Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba; Editing by
Ernest Scheyder and Diane Craft)