by Michael Bastasch
Obama administration appointees are “working toward a union takeover” of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), two sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
CSB board members are expected to vote an Obama administration appointee as “interim executive” to take over for outgoing CSB chairwoman Vanessa Sutherland, said sources, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Sutherland announced her resignation on May 21, and the following day sent out what’s called a notation item to vote on her successor. Sources said the notice only had one name: Kristen Kulinowski.
Kulinowski has support of the United Steelworkers (USW), the labor union most involved with CSB matters, sources said. While Kulinowski has a background in chemical and safety regulations, she grew closer to USW since joining CSB in 2015, the sources said.
“Before she became a CSB member in August 2015, she had limited involvement with the unions, but over the past three years, she has increased it markedly,” said one source.
“There’s been a very tight relationship over the years with the steelworkers,” a second source told TheDCNF. “They want to have their own people in there. They are very, very powerful in that regard.”
However, President Donald Trump can nullify the results of the election by nominating a new CSB chair, which the Senate would have to confirm. Trump can also designate an interim chair to run the agency until a new chair is confirmed.
CSB is an independent board that investigates major chemical disasters, like the 2010 BP oil spill and the 2013 Texas fertilizer plant explosion. The board has no regulatory authority, but issues recommendations to regulatory agencies based on its investigations.
The board is currently filled by four Obama administration appointees. Sutherland and Kulinowski were both confirmed by the Senate in August 2015. Board members serve five-year terms and can only be removed for bad behavior.
One source said Sutherland consulted with USW before sending out the notation item on May 22, but the second source could not confirm this detail. Board members have until May 29 to send in their votes, sources said.
CSB board members can either vote for Kulinowski or abstain, but Kulinowski is expected to take over as interim executive, where she can serve for 180 days unless the White House intervenes.
“Since Sutherland proposed Kulinowski as interim executive, it’s pretty sure bet that Kulinowski will win the vote,” a source said.
“You can reasonably be assured that the unions will be in charge,” the source added. “This will constitute far-Left Obama appointees working toward a union takeover of the CSB during this administration.”
Sutherland and CSB board member Rick Engler will support Kulinowski, sources said. Engler has deep ties to labor unions, which has tarred CSB’s reputation in recent years. Sources suggested Engler’s union activism is why he was not nominated as interim executive.
Indeed, when former CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso resigned in 2015, Engler had himself voted interim chair. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility called the move a “coup d’état” that violated federal regulations. Only Engler and one other board member voted him to head the board.
Engler, who founded the New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) in the 1980s, has been a lightning rod of controversy at an otherwise uncontroversial agency.
Engler coordinated a grassroots campaign with the WEC in 2017 to save CSB’s funding from the Trump administration’s budget cuts. Engler used his position as a CSB board member to promote WEC materials, TheDCNF found in 2017.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into Engler, Sutherland and Kulinowski in 2017 over alleged illegal lobbying activities. No investigation findings have been released.
“Engler is a rogue board member, there’s been tremendous controversy about his behavior,” one source told TheDCNF.
Kulinowski’s critics, however, are pushing for the White House to appoint Board Member Manuel Ehrlich, who spent over 50 years in the chemical industry, as interim chair. USW “blackballed” Ehrlich, one source said, over remarks he’s made to the media in recent years.
The White House also has the power to appoint a new CSB chair, which would negate the results of CSB’s election if confirmed by the Senate.
USW would not say who they supported to take over for Sutherland.
“We are sorry to see her go, and wish her well in her future endeavors,” said Michael Wright, USW’s director of health safety and environment.
“We believe the three remaining Board members are best qualified to decide how the Board should be governed going forward, and we suggest the issue of interim leadership be left to them,” Wright told TheDCNF.
A CSB spokeswoman told TheDCNF the agency has the power to appoint an interim chair, but not a new chairperson.
“The Board may not appoint its own Chairperson, even temporarily — only the President, following Senate confirmation, may do that,” she said.
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