Changes at CSB Present Opportunity to Rebuild

The mid-June resignation of Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Chair Katherine Lemos, alongside her senior advisor, once again reduces the number of board members to less than half the full allotment.

However, it also provides the agency with a crucial chance to reestablish itself.

“It is our hope that Katherine Lemos’s and Bruce Walker’s resignations will present an opportunity for rebuilding this small, but vital agency,” said USW Health, Safety and Environment Director Steve Sallman. “During this crucial time, the CSB’s staff, as well as its new and future board members, will need broad, bipartisan support in Congress.”

In her resignation letter, Lemos reportedly cited “eroded confidence” in the CSB’s ability to focus on its mission based on its “recent priorities.” Steve Owens and Sylvia Johnson, the remaining members, feuded with Lemos over a board order that they claimed gave too much power to the chair, and she challenged their vote to make changes to it based on procedural grounds.

Outside groups also criticized Lemos for her travel and office expenses, and the editorial board of The Houston Chronicle chastised her for slowing down CSB investigations. The paper reported that 10 investigators left the agency since a year ago and that there is a backlog of 20 site investigations going back to 2016.

Now, the CSB’s overseer, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General, is reviewing the agency’s ability to carry out its programs and operations, and is looking at staffing levels, attrition and board leadership.

If the Senate confirms Biden nominee Catherine J.K. Sandoval, she will be the third person on the CSB board, and the administration will have two remaining seats to fill. Sandoval is a law professor who investigated the root causes of hydrocarbon incidents while she served as a commissioner on the California Public Utilities Commission.

The CSB is a fact-finding, independent agency that investigates industrial chemical incidents for their root causes. It presents its findings and recommendations at public meetings and through public reports and videos on its webpage. Policymakers, regulatory agencies and industry use the CSB’s work to make workplaces safer.

“Labor and industry stakeholders will need to continue working with the CSB so that together we can make our nation safer from chemical disasters,” Sallman said. “Our union believes that every worker deserves a safe workplace. The CSB’s mission and work are imperative to reaching that goal.”

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