President Barack Obama’s pick to head the embattled Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) fielded some tough questions from Congress this week about the small independent agency that investigates chemical plant accidents.
But with her kindergarten-age daughter watching, Vanessa Allen Sutherland breezed through her nomination hearing with little pushback from lawmakers.
Most of the tough questions focused on the actions of the former CSB chair, Rafael Moure-Eraso. He stepped down in late March under intense pressure from both Democrats and Republicans over allegations that he mismanaged the agency.
“I think we all agree that CSB needs a fresh start under new leadership,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee.
Sutherland, currently chief counsel for the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said she wants the recommendations CSB makes after investigating the root causes of accidents to have a broader impact. “I believe CSB’s work is a tremendous and often untapped resource,” she said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the committee’s top Democrat, pressed Sutherland on the long lag time before CSB reports are released to the public. Sutherland pledged to examine ways to get the board’s findings out more quickly.
Boxer said she hoped the Senate would quickly confirm Sutherland and chemist Kristen M. Kulinowski, of the federally funded Science & Technology Policy Institute, to the five-member board.