Washington, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) 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 her prepared remarks:
LANDSCAPE OF ACCIDENTAL RELEASES
“The chemical industry is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the U.S., serving both a domestic and global marketplace.
“Our chemical industries help stimulate the economy by providing materials that we use in our everyday life.
“But when major chemical accidents occur, they can result in devastating impacts including death, serious injury, and significant property damage.
“These accidents pose a serious risk not only for workers, but surrounding communities.
“In the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, Congress took a three-faceted approach to addressing the potential risks from these significant events, using the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chemical Safety Board.
“To understand the role of the CSB, it is essential to understand the landscape in which this Board operates, including its main players and their designated roles.”
THE EPA AND OSHA
“The EPA has a primary role in addressing accidental releases.
“The 1990 Amendments required the EPA to publish regulations and guidance for chemical accident prevention, preparedness, and response activities at facilities using substances that pose the greatest risk of harm from accidental releases.
“This Act placed EPA in charge of requiring qualifying companies to develop their own Risk Management Plans.
“To protect workers from injury resulting from accidental releases, the 1990 Amendments also provided OSHA with standard setting and enforcement authority concerning process safety management.
“OSHA also provides training, outreach, education, and assistance in this area.”
THE PURPOSE OF CSB
“Unlike, EPA and OSHA, the CSB, by law, is an independent, non-regulatory body established to provide objective knowledge.
“The Board’s primary purpose – as stated in the Conference Report to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 – is to investigate the root causes of accidental releases.
“This is an important function.
“Without an independent, investigative body searching for the answers, the industry will not have all the valuable information needed to reduce the risk of chemical accidents that cause substantial damage.
“Unfortunately, though, CSB has recently failed in fulfilling this mission.
“Right now, the CSB has a backlog of 18 investigations, not including the two investigations were closed last Friday, with the oldest open investigation from 2016.
“Let me be clear: waiting more than 5 years to close out these timely and important investigations simply is not acceptable.
“These investigations help companies understand what went wrong; to help prevent future accidents.
“Something must be done to improve the investigative process and end the waiting game for owners and operators of these facilities.”
THE CSB’S FUNDAMENTAL NEEDS
“I recognize the CSB must have all its parts working to ensure functionality. Otherwise, it cannot address its investigative backlog and new investigations.
“A key building block here is quality investigators. They must have chemical or process safety expertise to analyze accidental releases and discover their root causes.
“It is also crucial that investigators have proper experience and the relevant scientific qualifications to make technically feasible and practical recommendations about how to reduce risks from chemical accidents.”
CSB CANNOT EXPAND ITS AUTHORITY
“The Board’s statutory responsibilities include investigating chemical accidents and providing Congress, federal, and state authorities with periodic reports that contain recommendations to improve chemical safety.
“Unfortunately, CSB is not fulfilling those responsibilities.
“Importantly, the CSB should not be seeking ways to expand its jurisdiction into EPA’s or OSHA’s authorities.
“The testimony mischaracterizes ‘safety recommendations’ as part of a root cause investigation. While it seems reasonable CSB suggest steps to address a specific accident, its statute seems to suggest something different.
“Under the law, ‘safe’ is a feature that may be explicitly covered in CSB’s periodic reports, not root cause investigations. Moreover, the majority of the law’s references to ‘recommendations’ suggested changes in regulations.
“The CSB should channel its resources into conducting investigations, especially looking for ways to meet the baseline.
“It should not use its investigations and the recommendations in its reports to push certain agendas.
“My hope is the Board will resist the urge to become distracted with other priorities and focus on the main task at hand – demonstrating it can color inside the lines by focusing on investigations. Ultimately, workers, communities, and our manufacturing sector depend on it.”