The federal agency charged with investigating incidents at chemical plants continues to face turmoil nearly three months after its chairman resigned amid a slew of controversies.
Washington, D.C.-based group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said this week that two top Chemical Safety Board officials — Managing Director Daniel Horowitz and General Counsel Richard Loeb — were placed on administrative leave as part of a "coup d’état and purge" at the agency.
PEER alleged that the decision to remove Horowitz and Loeb followed a private agreement by CSB members Rick Engler and Mark Griffon to give Engler additional authority over the agency.
E&E characterized Horowitz and Loeb as top aides to former CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso, who resigned in late March. Moure-Eraso came under fire for allegedly conducting government business on an outside email system, but the agency was previously plagued by reports of declining employee performance and morale.
"In charge for less than a week, Engler has presided over the escalation from a toxic work environment to thermonuclear war," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement.
Engler reportedly cited misconduct during Moure-Eraso’s tenure as the reason for the suspensions.
A scheduled CSB public meeting this week, meanwhile, was cut short when an insufficient number of board members attended to achieve a quorum. Manny Ehrlich, a third board member, reportedly missed the meeting due to health concerns.
Griffon's term expires next week and the U.S. Senate has yet to act on the appointment of Vanessa Sutherland as the next CSB chair. PEER said that would leave the agency with just two remaining members "who cannot agree on governance."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah and one of Moure-Eraso's harshest critics, said the changes were necessary to improve the culture at the CSB.
"If they're making substantive changes, I wholeheartedly support that," Chaffetz told E&E.
Ruch, however, highlighted what he called the hypocrisy of "Engler’s unilateral moves" after a much-criticized CSB motion in January that consolidated power with Moure-Eraso.
"Lost in all this infighting is the mission and work of the Chemical Safety Board," Ruch said. "Its chief critics on Capitol Hill act as if their intent all along was to neuter the agency and keep it paralyzed.”