Shutdown Stops West Blast Investigations

October 10, 2013

The partial government shutdown is delaying the federal investigation of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and efforts to improve chemical safety, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said.

Deadlines set by President Barack Obama for Cabinet members and agency heads to review and overhaul regulations, safety practices, data-sharing and emergency response won’t be met, Boxer, a Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate’s environment and public works committee, told The Dallas Morning News.

The first deadline, for agencies to submit proposals for improvements, is Nov. 1.

Obama issued his executive order on Aug. 1. The order imposed a series of deadlines and multiple federal agencies had to submit preliminary proposals for improvements.

Boxer said Tuesday those will “definitely be delayed.”

The shutdown also is delaying the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s final report on the April 17 blast at the West Fertilizer Co. that killed 15 and injured more than 300 others.

Norman Lenburg/FEMA
Norman Lenburg/FEMA

“That explosion is a prime example of the situation we’re in now, where the agencies that are supposed to come up with ways to make sure this never happens again just can’t meet,” she said.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates industrial accidents, has furloughed 37 of its 41 employees, chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said.

Among the furloughed are 10 who remain part of the West inquiry. Moure-Eraso says that as a result, an Oct. 24 meeting between the safety board’s staff and West residents is in question. So, too, is the spring 2014 completion date for a final report on the explosion.

Work on more than a dozen other chemical accidents has also come to a halt.

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