Under Pressure, Chemical Safety Head Resigns

Mark Humphrey/AP file photo

Facing pressure from the White House and members of Congress from both parties, the head of the Chemical Safety Board is resigning effective Thursday.

Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso announced his resignation to staff in an email Thursday evening; the news was confirmed by CSB. He led the agency since 2010, a tenure dogged by internal turmoil and allegations that he mismanaged and overstressed the staff.

Moure-Eraso had just three months left in his five-year term at CSB, the independent agency tasked with investigating chemical incidents and issuing recommendations.

"It has been a privilege to serve the agency since June 2010," Moure-Eraso wrote to the staff. "My wishes are for the continued success and productivity of the Board. Good luck to the Board and the staff in all your projects at the CSB. I am forever grateful for the hard work of the agency that has led to so many successes over the past five years."

The White House told lawmakers Wednesday that it was asking Moure-Eraso to step down.

Moure-Eraso faced increasing pressure from the Hill over his management of the agency and charges that he stood in the way of EPA inspector general investigations. Recently, an EPA IG report found that Moure-Eraso and two top executives used personal email accounts to conduct official business.

Fourteen members of the House Oversight Committee called on Obama to oust Moure-Eraso last week, as did two Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The letter from Sens. Jim Inhofe and Mike Rounds said CSB "can no longer continue to operate credibly under this leadership."

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings said they were "pleased that the president has recognized the importance of making key changes with the Chemical Safety Board."

"Dr. Moure-Eraso's mismanagement of the CSB, abuse of power, employee retaliation, and lack of honesty in his communications with Congress are among the many reasons why his resignation is the right next step for this federal agency," they wrote. "We remain hopeful that progress will continue to be made with regards to improving leadership and morale issues within the CSB."

The Oversight Committee also charged that a CSB employee had been removed from an outside contract and demoted after working with a consulting firm on a report that criticized management at the agency. There have also been questions about a board order that passed in a late-night January meeting that wiped away several management reforms and appeared to consolidate power with the chair, although the member who introduced it said it was a streamlining measure.

Industry and labor observers also said that under Moure-Eraso, the agency had faltered on its core work of investigating and preventing chemical accidents. Until recently, there was a hefty backlog of open investigations, although CSB has issued eight reports in the past nine months and now has just six open investigations (three others were eliminated without a final report). Still, critics say the CSB has not been as quick or as nimble as it had in the past.

Several investigators left under Moure-Eraso, citing a toxic work environment and a management style that discouraged open discussion and debate.

The White House this month nominated Vanessa Allen Sutherland, the chief counsel at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to chair the CSB for a term that would begin in June.

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