For Immediate Release: Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
CSB Proposal Would Not Produce Useful, Accurate, or Timely Information
Washington, DC — A federal agency under court order to determine and disclose air pollutants accidentally emitted by any industrial explosions, leaks, and other accidents has proposed regulations that are unjustifiably anemic, according comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33), and a coalition of chemical safety, environmental justice, and local, state and national environmental groups. Unless the proposed regulations are substantially strengthened, affected communities, first responders, and regulators will remain without access to accurate, real-time information about dangerous chemicals released into their midst.
PEER and allied groups successfully sued to enforce a law ignored since 1990 requiring the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) to obtain reports on all “accidental releases into the ambient air” from any industry within its jurisdiction. CSB resisted but lost the litigation and now faces a court-mandated deadline to finalize the regulation by February 4, 2020.
Unfortunately, the proposed regulation that CSB released in mid-December for public comment (through yesterday) is so narrow and weak as to be largely useless. In comments filed yesterday evening the groups point to limitations in the CSB draft that would –
- Render reports from industries inaccurate and untimely. CSB would require only one report within four hours, when often little is known, even if later updates are available;
- Limit access to reports to the Freedom of Information Act process, which can take weeks or longer, with no provision for immediate, affirmative disclosure; and
- Not compile reports to CSB or collect reports filed with other agencies to create a publicly-available, searchable database to analyze trends, identify patterns of vulnerability, or guide CSB priorities, as well as serve as an asset for industrial safety research.
“After shirking this statutory duty for over 20 years, CSB has grudgingly proposed a reporting rule so stripped down as to give only the bare appearance of compliance without advancing the cause of chemical safety,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who argued the litigation leading to the regulation. “To illustrate how minimal this plan is, CSB estimates that it would take only 50 person-hours per year for all industries across the entire country to comply.”
The comments point to other reporting systems, such as what is now used for pipeline leaks, as models CSB should adopt. In addition, the comments detail revisions CSB should accept.
“Rather than aiding affected communities, the CSB goes out of its way to discourage public access to the reports collected under the rule,” Dinerstein added, pointing out that CSB is becoming increasingly deferential to industry. “Once again showing fear of corporate opposition, CSB is blowing a golden opportunity to better achieve its mission.”
While the CSB has been telegraphing to stakeholders that it somehow lacks the resources to implement anything but a rudimentary reporting system, the agency has been quietly returning large sums of unspent appropriated funds to the Treasury each year for several years. According to its most recent published budget report, CSB has $5.1 million in “unspent appropriations” for the past five years. In FY 2019, CSB did not spend $1.3 million of its $12 million appropriation, or more than 10% of the agency’s entire annual budget.
Joining the PEER comments are Congressman Lieu, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Clean Water Action, Coming Clean, Center for Progressive Reform, United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities, California Safe Schools, Coalition for Clean Air (CA), Communities for a Better Environment (CA), Citizen’s Environmental Coalition (NY), Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Faith in Place Action Fund (IL), Ohio Valley Environmental Council, Air Alliance Houston, Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and Clean Power Lake County (IL).