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Bipartisan E&C Leaders Request Information from Chemical Safety Board on Management Challenges

May 20, 2021
Press Release
Leaders Voice Concern About Persistent & Emerging Issues Undermining the CSB’s Ability to Conduct Investigations

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Full Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-NY), and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Ranking Member David McKinley (R-WV) wrote to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) today demanding information regarding the ongoing management, resources, and personnel challenges it continues to face.

“The CSB serves a critical mission to investigate independently the causes of chemical incidents and make recommendations to reduce the risk of future accidents,” the six Committee leaders wrote to CSB Chairman and CEO Katherine Lemos. “Given the Committee’s longstanding interest in ensuring that the CSB is effective, we are concerned about recent reports indicating that both persistent and emergent issues may be undermining the CSB’s ability to protect American communities and workers.”

Over its history, the CSB has deployed to more than 130 chemical incidents and issued hundreds of safety recommendations, leading to progress across many different industries. The CSB was authorized by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, but it was not funded until 1998. In the decades since, management problems and resource limitations have compromised the effectiveness of the CSB. Further, CSB has had challenges such as insufficient staffing for investigations, investigation backlogs, tensions among board members, and employee dissatisfaction.

The bipartisan Committee leaders express concern over the CSB’s ongoing difficulties meeting its legal authorities related to chemical accident release investigations, as well as its failure to address its investigations backlog. They point out that, currently, the CSB has 20 open investigations – including one from 2016 – and that these delays could result in recommendations being outdated by the time they are complete. They also write that CSB did not approve any new recommendations last year.

“As the Committee with jurisdiction over chemical safety and the CSB, we want to ensure that the CSB has the tools it needs during this time of transition to conduct and complete its important investigations. While the Committee appreciates earlier staff briefings with the CSB, we remain concerned about ongoing challenges impacting the agency’s ability to mitigate the risks of future chemical accidents,” the six lawmakers concluded.

The bipartisan Committee leaders requested answers to a series of questions, including:

  • How many vacancies remain unfilled, including investigators, and whether current budget allocations are sufficient for filling those vacancies;
  • Reasons for the investigation backlog, including a copy of the CSB’s most recent investigation plan;
  • Status updates on all open investigations, including expected timeframe for completing each investigation and whether any have been terminated or paused due to staffing and resource constraints;
  • Why the CSB failed to approve any recommendations during the last fiscal year; and 
  • The extent to which having a single board member, as well as resource and staffing challenges, have impacted the CSB and its ability to effectively execute its mission.

The full letter is available HERE.