Probing the Bayer blast

March 14, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.

bayerblast.jpg

Indeed, as an alert Sustained Outrage reader pointed out, a congressional hearing will be held on April 23 to investigate the August explosion that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.

The hearing is being convened by Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and by Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of Waxman’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The hearing is to “examine the causes of the accident, the adequacy of the response, and the scope of the information provided to the first responders, employees and the public.”

The hearing was apparently announced in Friday, but I didn’t hear about it until I read Mike Harman’s comment on this morning’s Sustained Outrage post.

waxmanap.jpgWaxman has a reputation for his vigorous oversight of government agencies, and it will be interesting to see if he looks into the recent controversy over  whether findings of a federal Chemical Safety Board probe of the accident should be hidden from the public. As Harman and Maya Nye of People Concerned About MIC pointed out to me, the congressional hearing is set for the same day as the Chemical Safety Board public meeting announced Friday.

Maybe Waxman will also ask the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration why a chemical plant accident that killed two workers draws only $143,000 in fines from OSHA inspectors, despite the plant’s long history of safety problems. Or maybe Waxman will look into what is — or maybe isn’t — going on with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s promise to investigate whether Bayer violating federal chemical leak reporting laws when it stalled releasing information to local emergency responders. Perhaps Waxman’s committee will even push to know why EPA doesn’t appear to be examining if Bayer is complying with federal chemical process safety requirements.

Kanawha Valley residents may recall that Waxman caused quite a stir in the days after the Bhopal disaster, when he released an internal Union Carbide memo that warned of a “runaway reaction that could cause a catastrophic failure of the storage tanks holding poisoning MIC gas” at the Institute plant, which Carbide then owned.

6 Responses to “Probing the Bayer blast”

  1. Maya Nye says:

    I wonder where Shelley Moore Capito stands.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Well, Maya, Congresswoman Capito is not on Waxman’s committee.

    But, her scores over the years from the League of Conservation Voters — which tracks environmental matters in Congress — have not been very good. You can look her up at http://www.lcv.org.

    I did find there an instance in 2002 where Rep. Capito voted against a measure to keep chemical right-to-know language in a homeland security bill.

    That’s at http://tiny.cc/Q2TVB

    But in 2006, she voted in favor of blocking EPA’s rules to roll back the Toxics Release Inventory program.

    That’s at http://lcv.org/images/client/pdfs/LCV_2006_Scorecard_final.pdf, scroll to page 18 and page 35.

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Dear readers,

    I tried to contact Rep. Capito’s office and suggest that someone there respond to Maya’s question with a comment on Sustained Outrage. From the response I got, it doesn’t sound like they’re too interested in that kind of dialogue with constituents, at least on a Gazette blog, anyway.

    But in the interest of fairness, at least one Capito staffer wasn’t too happy with my reference to the League of Conservation Voters Scorecard. He said the league’s ” “tracking” stems from a particular ideological viewpoint – and it should be characterized as such. ”

    OK.

    Well, like I said, to be fair, here’s a link to the story I did about Rep. Capito “flunking” the League’s Scorecard last year:

    http://www.wvgazette.com/News/200810270664

    It includes some explanations of Rep. Capito’s votes and quotes from her staff on the issues involved.

    Now, maybe that we’ve covered that base, someone from Rep. Capito’s office will answer Maya’s question with an online comment here.

    Ken.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Maya, other interested readers —

    I’ve tried again to get Rep. Capito’s office to answer your question, and haven’t been able to get anything out of them.

    One staffer told me that he would encourage Maya (and presumably other Sustained Outrage readers) to contact Capito’s office with concerns/questions. The Charleston office number is 304-925-5964 and the Washington office number is
    202-225-2711.

    Ken.

  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Readers —

    Finally, this just in from my buddy Jonathan Coffin, Rep. Capito’s press spokesman:

    “She applauds the hearing and looks forward to attending/participating in it. Her concern is with the safety of employees and residents. The hearing provides a prime opportunity for oversight and the free flow of information to understand the factors involved and how to prevent similar situations in the future.”

    Thanks, Jon.

    Ken.

  6. […] by Ken Ward, Jr., cross-posted from Sustained Outrage: A Gazette Watchdog blog […]

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