Well, actually, the Chronicle’s headline warning of “death and destruction” was from a quote by chemical safety consultant Paul Orum about Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Chemical Safety Board (CSB).
While little known to the masses, the CSB is to chemical disasters what the much better-funded National Transportation Safety Board is to airline crashes, train derailments and bridge collapses. Without the recommendations that come from these boards, preventable accidents repeat themselves.
Gutting the CSB is “standing up for death and destruction,” said chemical safety consultant Paul Orum. “It’s disrespectful to those killed in such incidents.”
A Houston Chronicle investigation last year found that federal agencies, including the CSB, don’t have enough resources to provide adequate oversight to facilities that handle dangerous chemicals. While the White House attempts to justify these cuts as deficit reduction, that argument is particularly ridiculous when it comes to this small $10 million agency
Stopping just one could justify the cost of the CSB since its inception in 1998, said Mike Wright, director of safety for the United Steelworkers union. “We think it’s a remarkably stupid move” to kill the agency, Wright said. “The CSB is probably one of the best deals in Washington in terms of spending the taxpayer’s money.”
The CSB has no enforcement authority; it issues recommendations to government agencies like OSHA and EPA, as well as industry associations and labor unions. It’s real value is conducting root cause analyses of chemical disasters. While OSHA can only go after specific violations of its standard, and only has 6 months to issue a citation, the CSB can go way beyond OSHA or EPA regulations to address other causes, and then urge the agencies to address them.
Industry experts are upset. Shakeel Kadri, president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, said his group supports the CSB and says the agency’s independent investigations are critical. “We can’t do that. I don’t see anyone else being able to do that, either,” he said….Sam Mannan, director of the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University, called elimination of the CSB a “really sad matter. Everyone uses the CSB’s videos and reports,” he said.
Orum expects that cooler heads will prevail. No one wants a major chemical disaster in their district, especially after they voted against the only agency that performs thorough investigations. “Chemical incidents are highly visible when they happen,” he said. “There’s smoke, flames and news cameras. If it looks like they’ve undermined safety, it could come back to bite them.”