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Coalition calls on Chemical Safety Board to make ‘significant changes’ to fulfill agency mission

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Washington — Citing concerns that reported management and staffing issues have resulted in the Chemical Safety Board falling behind on investigations, a coalition of worker unions and other safety advocacy groups is offering suggestions “to right the path of the CSB and assist in fulfilling the goals of protecting communities, workers and our planet.”

In a letter dated July 8 and sent to CSB Chair and CEO Katherine Lemos, the group of 22 organizations calls on the agency to take several actions:

  • Issue an accounting of the current investigative backlog and a plan explaining how CSB will complete each open site investigation, including a target date for releasing final reports and recommendations. Post the plan on the agency website and provide periodic updates.
  • Issue a staff recruitment, training and retention plan, and post it on the CSB website.
  • After assessing meaningful input from new board members and public comment on a draft regulation, issue a new CSB regulation(s) to address both the executive and administrative functions of the board, as well as board member roles and responsibilities.
  • Post incident reports quarterly on the CSB website.
  • Follow CSB policy to provide 60 days advance public notice of quarterly business meetings.
  • Develop an annual calendar of tentative dates for CSB’s quarterly public business meetings and post it on the agency’s website.
  • Conduct a public forum to hear stakeholder perspectives and encourage dialogue on a draft strategic plan for fiscal years 2022-2026.
  • Conduct an annual CSB stakeholder meeting, beginning in FY 2023.
  • Create a policy and video for communities that are disproportionately harmed by chemical incidents highlighting how CSB works and opportunities for engagement with the agency.

Legislative representatives John Paul Smith (United Steelworkers), Allison Cain (Union of Concerned Scientists) and Terry McGuire (Earthjustice) co-authored the letter.

“The CSB has a long history of doing important work,” Steve Sallman, director of USW’s health, safety and environment department, said in a press release, “but in order to keep that work alive, there must be significant changes.”

In a statement to Safety+Health, a CSB spokesperson said: “The agency is reviewing the letter and will respond to the appropriate parties.”

A frequent target for elimination under the Trump administration, CSB has operated with only one of its five board seats filled since May 1, 2020. Lemos, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, has since operated as a self-described quorum of one.

President Joe Biden on April 28 nominated Sylvia Johnson, Steve Owens and Jennifer Sass to serve as CSB members. If the Senate confirms the nominations, the trio will join Lemos on the board. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee is slated to conduct a hearing on the nominations July 29.

During a public business meeting on April 2, CSB announced it had revised a board order on board member roles and responsibilities in response to criticism of the agency in reports from the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General.

Issued in July 2020, EPA OIG’s most recent report on CSB asserted that various management challenges – namely the abundance of board vacancies and unclear policy on board member responsibilities – “will impede the ability of the CSB to function effectively.”

In a letter dated May 20 and sent to Lemos, a bipartisan delegation from the House Energy and Commerce Committee called on the agency to provide numerous operational and procedural updates amid concerns raised by such reports.

CSB’s next public business meeting is scheduled for July 29.

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