“Here we go again. Fighting for resources. What the hell am I doing here?”  — Brad Pitt as Roy McBride in Ad Astra

I just received an email from a client. They were alarmed that the proposed Federal budget included, again, defunding the Chemical Safety Board, and wanted to know what they could do to prevent it.

Here We Go Again

This first came up in 2017. We posted two blogs at the time, Is America First without the Chemical Safety Board? and then Defunding the CSB: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?  We laid out the reasons why we believed the CSB was important and worth funding. It was funded.

Defunding the CSB came up again with proposed Federal budget that was issued in 2018, and the proposed budget that was issued in 2019. Now, in 2020, the proposed Federal budget once again defunds the CSB.

Worse, attrition has whittled the five-member board down to only one member, interim executive authority, Dr. Kristen Kulinowski.

What Does the CSB Do?

The CSB does not make regulations and it does not enforce regulations. So, if you dislike regulations and other forms of government interference with how you do your job, that is no reason to see the CSB eliminated.

So, what does the CSB do?

The CSB investigates chemical catastrophes in an effort to understand why they happened, makes whatever recommendations they believe are necessary to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence, and works to educate all parties about making the chemical industry safer.

Every safety professional and every process engineer I have talked to believes that the Chemical Safety Board makes an essential contribution to improving the safety of chemical operations in the United States, and for that matter, the rest of the world.

Moreover, when they learn what the CSB’s budget is, they are astonished.  “Wow!  What a bargain!”

What a Bargain!

The annual budget for the CSB is around $12 million.  If the work the CSB does each year prevents only one additional catastrophic event per year, one quickly concludes that the CSB gives an incredible return on investment. The videos that the CSB produces about the chemical disasters they have investigated alone are worth the price of admission.

The annual budget for the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency on which the CSB is modeled, is a little over $100 million. It is still in the budget.

We Need the CSB

Investigations of catastrophic chemical incidents are like independent layers of protection.  They need to be effective, independent, and auditable.  The CSB provides that.  Certainly, organizations that suffer these incidents need to investigate themselves.  For the rest of us though, that does not provide an opportunity to learn.  We only learn from experience, but it is incredibly expensive for each of us to learn only from our own experience. To learn from other’s experiences, we need an entity independent of the incident to tell us what happened. Scrapping the CSB will not eliminate the need—it just shifts the burden to a new entity.  In the meantime, investigations will go undisclosed or dismissed as self-serving legal defenses.  We need the CSB.

Contact Your Representatives and Senators

The final Federal budget is not the proposed Federal budget, but the budget passed by Congress and signed into law. As we have seen, there is a lot of movement between where the Federal budget starts and where it ends up.

There is still an opportunity for individual citizens to influence specific line items in the budget.  It does no good for you to complain to your co-workers or to me.  It is your Representative and Senators in Congress that need to hear from you.

So, do what I am going to do:  contact your Representative and Senators.  Send a well-reasoned explanation of why you think the CSB is important and why having a full board is important. Encourage others to do the same.

Don’t send a rant. Don’t send a form letter; form letters are typically dismissed or lumped together as a single comment. Don’t stray to other topics; it makes it hard for staffers to keep a tally and it dilutes your message.

It doesn’t take very many letters, calls, or e-mails with unique content to represent a flood of interest in the eyes of a legislator, to make them understand that this is not just a passing fancy.  Make yours understand how important the CSB is to your safety and the safety of our entire industry.