The Chemical Safety Board (CSB), the troubled little agency with the giant mission of preventing chemical plant disasters, has been sentenced to death by the Trump budget proposal. And the unanimous response of the chemical safety community — industry and labor — has been a collective “What the hell are they smoking over at the White House?”
Today, United Steelworkers Union President Leo Girard wrote an article blasting Trump’s budgeteers, not only for lining out the CSB, but also for proposing to dismantle the EPA, gut OSHA and fricassee Big Bird (and National Public Radio).
Gerard points out that the CSB is not just protecting workers; it also protects communities:
After a 2015 explosion at an ExxonMobil Corp. refinery in Torrance, Calif., that injured two workers, the CSB found a much deadlier incident had been narrowly averted. Large pieces of debris from the blast that had the force of a 1.7 magnitude earthquake had nearly struck a tank containing thousands of pounds of deadly hydrofluoric acid. The explosion rained chemical ash around the plant for two miles. Release of the acid into the atmosphere could have chemically burned or killed everything living in that area.
And corporate American seems hardly more enthusiastic about deep-sixing the CSB. Gerard points out that even refinery owners who have been criticized by the Agency think it should be spared:
“I don’t think anyone in the industry wants to see the Chemical Safety Board be abolished,” Stephen Brown, a vice president with Tesoro Corp., told Bloomberg.
This endorsement of the CSB came from an executive of a corporation that the agency concluded in 2014 conducted deficient oversight of its Anacortes, Wash., refinery, continuing to operate it with severely cracked and degraded equipment to the point where an explosion occurred on April 2, 2010, killing seven workers.
A Reuters article quotes former Bush EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman supporting the agency. “If you want to put the American people in danger this is the way to do it,” she said.
And a Forbes article quotes spokespersons from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Center for Chemical Process Safety, American Chemical Society, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and former CSB Board Member Gary Visscher, who served on the CSB during the Bush administration from 2004 to 2009. No one supports eliminating the agency.
So why is Trump going over the CSB? It certainly has nothing to do with the deficit. Maybe his sons want to buy a refinery. Maybe its $11 million budget will buy a portrait of the President on his $21 billion wall. Anyone have any better guesses?