When a massive steam explosion last year at Loy Lange Box Co. near Soulard sent a steel tank rocketing through the air, killing four people, only one federal agency had the authority and expertise to enter the scene, conduct investigations and provide an expert assessment on how to prevent such future accidents. The agency was the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
In his reckless bid to gut any agency that regulates U.S. business, President Donald Trump is trying to kill the CSB, the chemical industry’s canary in the coal mine. Trump’s 2018 budget request proposed to cut CSB funding to the point that it could no longer operate. Senior administration officials say the 2019 budget will do the same unless Congress intervenes to restore funding.
Trump’s effort couldn’t possibly be for reasons of fiscal efficiency. The CSB’s annual budget is a mere $11 million. That wouldn’t even cover a day’s worth of work on Trump’s proposed $21.6 billion border wall.
The administration has worked systematically to dismantle federal review functions that help guarantee worker safety and ensure that industries engaging in environmentally risky ventures don’t wind up causing public health disasters.
Last month, Trump proposed actions that would reduce federal safety requirements on offshore drilling imposed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. He also wants to relax petroleum companies’ readiness for responding to major oil spills.
In late January, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Michael Dourson, withdrew from consideration after his past connections to the chemical industry became public. Among Dourson’s former clients were Dow Chemical Co., Koch Industries and Chevron Corp.
Against that backdrop, it comes as little surprise that Trump is trying to dismantle the independent Chemical Safety Board. The CSB investigates major industrial accidents in much the same way that the National Transportation Safety Board investigates airline, train and shipping disasters.
No other federal agency has the CSB’s level of expertise in enforcing industry safety standards. Last summer the agency’s experts deployed to a refinery explosion in Crosby, Texas, right after Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area. They did likewise immediately after a massive 2013 explosion leveled the town of West, Texas. The agency has no regulatory mission; it’s primary function is to review industrial disasters and present recommendations on standards and practices to avoid future accidents.
The administration apparently sees a nefarious purpose in that, as if evil lurks in safety recommendations and industry best practices.
The president is, once again, ill-informed. It’s up to Congress to continue funding CSB at least at current levels, as it did last year, until someone can educate Trump on why industrial accidents, just like plane crashes, are good things to avoid.