PEER Alleges Coup D’Etat and Purge at Chemical Safety Board

Strife within the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has burst into the open again with one board member seizing control and ordering immediate suspension of the agency’s entire executive staff.

That’s according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Chemical Safety Board Member Rick Engler

Chemical Safety Board Member Rick Engler

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents in refineries, factories, and other fixed facilities.

It is supposed to have five members but is currently operating with only three, after the White House pressured its own appointed CSB chair, Rafael Moure-Eraso, to resign in March before his nominated successor was confirmed.

That left the CSB leaderless, since the White House is declining to designate an interim chair among the remaining three members.

On Friday June 12th, one of the board members — Rick Engler — circulated an email in which he claimed “the Board voted to designate me the Board Member Delegated Interim Executive and Administrative Authority.”

PEER says there had been no CSB vote.

Instead, acting without a quorum, Engler and outgoing Board member Mark Griffon, whose term ends on June 24th, made the designation by email. Their action came over the vehement objection of the third Board member, Manuel “Manny” Ehrlich.

But Engler rebuffed Ehrlich’s overture that they act cooperatively to run the CSB until a chair could be confirmed.

This Tuesday June 16th, Engler summarily placed the CSB’s executive staff, managing director Daniel Horowitz and General Counsel Richard Loeb, on administrative leave, forbade them from re-entering the building or talking to any CSB staff.

Armed Federal Protective Service agents placed the two in custody and escorted them off the premises.

The stated basis for Engler’s action was that he had ordered an internal investigation into “possible misconduct” identified months earlier by a House Committee and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General in reports that targeted the former board chair.

The reports covered topics ranging from Moure-Eraso’s supposedly “autocratic” approach, use of private email, and staff complaints of a “toxic work environment.”

“In charge for less than a week, Engler has presided over the escalation from a toxic work environment to thermonuclear war,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “These stale and frankly trivial matters do not merit Egyptian-style martial-law retribution meted out here.”

PEER says it was Engler who was an outspoken critic of the “lack of transparency” and collegiality under Moure-Eraso.

Yet, his actions make those of the prior chair pale in comparison, Ruch said.

“The level of hypocrisy on display here gives opportunism a bad name,” said Ruch, pointing out the dubious legality of Engler’s unilateral moves. “Lost in all this infighting is the mission and work of the Chemical Safety Board. Its chief critics on Capitol Hill act as if their intent all along was to neuter the agency and keep it paralyzed.”

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