Washington, D.C. — Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader for Oversight and Investigations Morgan Griffith (R-VA) delivered opening remarks at Wednesday’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing with the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board Chair Katherine Lemos.
Excerpts and highlights from his prepared remarks:
FAILING ITS PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY
“The Chemical Safety Board is an independent, non-regulatory federal agency. According to its enabling statute, the leading charge of the Chemical Safety Board is to investigate and determine the cause of any accidental release resulting in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damages.
“It has been described to me as the equivalent of the National Transportation Safety Board, but for chemical spills as opposed to transportation accidents.
“Unfortunately, the Board has been criticized for falling short of accomplishing this primary responsibility.
“The Chemical Safety Board was created by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, but it did not become operational until 1998.
“Since then, it has been saddled with functioning challenges. In 2000, just two and a half years after its inception, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified management challenges and an investigative backlog.
“Now, 21 years later, we share in the same concerns as our colleagues of Congress’ past.
FILLING VACANCIES AT CSB
“Since May 1, 2020, the Chemical Safety Board has operated with only one of its five board seats filled.
“Chair Lemos, I understand that under your leadership you have been disadvantaged with a short staff and sharp learning curve.
“The vacancies in Board member positions impede the agency from making substantial progress on benchmarks.
“Board members are vital for facilitating and closing out investigations, including participating in site visits and approving investigative reports.
“The Chemical Safety Board certainly faces challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified staff. The quality of investigations hinges on the ability of experts to conduct complete, unbiased investigations.
“These investigators should have solid backgrounds in chemical engineering or industrial process safety.
“We understand it is difficult to compete with industry to find such a specialized skill set. But we are hopeful that the Board is taking actions to recruit these kinds of candidates for vacant investigator positions, and we would like to see that progress continue.
CONCERNS WITH CSB’S PROCESSES
“I believe Chemical Safety Board investigations can benefit industry, but I have real concerns with how this work is being conducted.
“Due to the ongoing challenges with management over the years, investigation processes are somewhat unclear.
“The Board should establish unbiased criteria for selecting incidents to investigate as well as protocols to determine when to deploy an investigative team. Uniform procedures would help to ensure objectivity and balance in the Board’s investigative work, especially as staff turnover occurs.
“Based on the data and analysis of an investigation, investigative reports usually include recommendations.
“Yet, these recommendations have no legal standards. They lack cohesiveness from one report to the next. And an absence of standardized criteria allows for investigative reports to include agenda-setting recommendations that advance a viewpoint.
“This is not the job of the Chemical Safety Board. The job of the Chemical Safety Board is to determine the root cause of an accident.
“When recommendations are made, they should focus on measures to minimize the consequences of an accidental release—that is their purpose as outlined in the statute. And recommendations should not need to be rewritten if new staff is placed on an investigation.
CSB SHOULD PLAY FACT FINDER
“The Chemical Safety Board should not set expectations that are unreachable. It is not practicable to eliminate all chemical accidents, and the law doesn’t mandate it.
“Above all, the role of the Chemical Safety Board is to play fact finder in these incidents, and to provide regulators with the information they need to create policy.
“The Board should not seek out investigations or issue recommendations simply to spotlight disfavored technology or preferred new practices.
“Finally, the Chemical Safety Board must focus on completing outstanding investigations as soon as possible.
“To gain the trust of stakeholders and the public, the Board must conduct its operations in a timely and transparent manner.
“And communications between the Chemical Safety Board and industry must improve to repair the reputation of the Board.
“Today, I hope we will focus on what the Chemical Safety Board can and should do in the upcoming months to close out high-quality investigations in both an expeditious and efficient way.
“We need to hear from the Board on how they will improve internal processes and allocate resources judiciously to complete rigorous and instructive investigations.”