EPA IG Alleges Poor Morale at Chem Safety Board

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By Stephen Lee

Oct. 23 — The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board must improve employee morale and do more investigations, said the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general in its latest probe of the agency.

The Oct. 22 report draws on a Republican House committee hearing from 2014 in alleging a toxic work environment, an unproductive work environment and fear of retaliation from the former chair, Rafael Moure-Eraso.

Although the agency has a new chairwoman, Vanessa Sutherland, the IG said the Chemical Safety Board's new leadership “needs to assure that the CSB functions as intended and restores open communication among staff, the board and the chairperson.”

Not Enough Investigations

The report further said the CSB isn't investigating all accidents that fall within its legal jurisdiction and should become more active. The agency should also develop a protocol for closing investigations that remain open for longer than three years, which the CSB has already taken some steps to ensure.

Finally, the IG said the CSB should determine the need for a chemical reporting regulation under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The board's ability to do so has been hampered by congressional budget cuts and sequestration, the IG conceded, but the CSB also intends to revisit its rulemaking effort.

Other recommendations addressed purchase cards, program operation, the information security program and electronic records management.

Celeste Monforton, a public health lecturer at George Washington University, praised the report.

“The IG is doing its job sending the required report to the new CSB chair,” Monforton, a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration policy analyst, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 22. “It simply reiterates the management weaknesses that I'm sure the entire board is well aware. I think any new leader would appreciate the current and concise synopsis by an independent set of eyes of an organization's challenges.”

Political Motivations?

But Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility watchdog group, was critical not only of the latest EPA IG report, but more generally of that agency's ongoing investigations into the CSB.

Ruch noted the inappropriateness of the IG basing its morale claims on a Republican staff report, “as if it were reliable,” and said the recommendation to do more investigations ignores the obvious facts that the CSB not only lacks the budget, but also faces complaints that its investigations take too long.

“For [the IG] to make that point without offering any concrete guidance as to how [the CSB] is supposed to respond, it makes you wonder why they bothered to issue the report,” Ruch told Bloomberg BNA.

He also advanced the theory that the EPA IG has been trying to help House Republicans persecute the CSB, thereby allowing lawmakers to score wins against the spectre of big government, in exchange for political support for a bigger IG budget.

“This report reinforces the notion that their work has been politically targeted in a way that is not helpful in terms of the larger issue of chemical safety,” Ruch said.

The CSB didn't reply to an e-mail for comment on this story.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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