Will Obama Adminsitration Get Smackdown From Chemical Safety Board?

by jim on July 17, 2013

Emergency preparednessThe disaster in West, Texas has, at least for the moment, altered the regulatory radar concerning hazardous materials and emergency planning. Trying to take advantage of that fact is The US Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency that seems to be using the incident to press for long sought safety upgrades in several industries.

The USCSB investigates industrial accidents and issues recommendations to regulators, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA, as well as companies, states and local authorities, but it lacks the authority to force regulators or companies to make changes on its own.

On July 25th the Board is due to hold a meeting where it's threatening to label the Administration's inaction on regs for combustible dust as "unacceptable" and raise the stakes by categorizing the regs as "Most Wanted" – the first time that's ever happened in the 30-something history of he board. That might sound like weak tea to you and I but it's pretty strong language coming from this group.

The safety board “has made a number of recommendations to OSHA over the years on life-threatening issues, and OSHA hasn’t really responded through the regulatory process,” Matt Shudtz, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Progressive Reform, said in an interview.

Four of the seven recommendations on next week’s agenda would apply to combustible dust, which caused three major industrial explosions in 2003, killing 14. OSHA has been considering a rule to regulate these facilities since 2009, and hasn’t yet submitted even its initial proposal to the White House for review.

Ammonium nitrate, which fueled the West explosion, is now regulated by local, state and federal agencies in a “patchwork that has many large holes,” board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said at a Senate hearing last month. However, regulating that chemical isn’t on the agenda next week: The investigation into that incident continues, and the board hasn’t made any recommendations to include on a ‘most wanted’ list, according to Hillary Cohen, an spokeswoman for the board.

Grassroots groups should do their own investigations into local emergency planning committees mandated by law and see how well their County is doing. As Channel 8 Bret Shipp found out, Ellis County, home to some of the most toxic industries in North Texas, has fallen down on the job, but it wouldn't surprise us to learn that they're in the majority.

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