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Delay of Long-Awaited Refinery Accident Report Signals Divisions at Chemical Safety Board

In almost 4 years since the explosion at the Tesoro Corp. oil refinery in Washington that killed seven workers, the independent federal agency investigating the accident has faced criticism from members of Congress and unions for failing to complete its final report.

The delay was scheduled to come to an end In late January 2014 with a public meeting in Anacortes that would include a vote by the agency’s board on the final report. Instead, the chairman’s last-minute decision to change the gathering to a “listening session” and delay a vote has drawn a sharp criticism from the congressman representing the area and exposed broader divisions between the chairman and the board’s other two members.

The productivity of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has dropped since 2006, a Center for public Integrity analysis found. the CSB’s growing backlog of unfinished investigations has hindered its ability to fulfill its mission of making recommendations to prevent catastrophes.

CSB officials have said they are doing what tehy can in light of limited resources and constant congressional demands for investigations of serious accidents.

The draft report criticized Tesoro’s safety culture, saying the company failed to identity and fix the damaged equipment that led to the explosion, even after repeated leaks and small fires. It found that safety standards set by the American Petroleum Institute were inadequate and the state regulatory agency didn’t have enough qualified experts that had failed to detect problems in inspections of the refinery.

Senator Patty Murray said, “the draft report released today is an important step in the process of avoiding another tragedy, but I am extremely frustrated that after nearly four years, the Chemical Safety Board has still failed to produce a final report. This delay is emblematic of poor leadership at CSB, which continues to be ad disservice to workers, companies, and the economy. Without dramatically improved performance, substantial leadership changes at CSB will be necessary.”

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