Washington, DC — President Joe Biden has nominated Sylvia Johnson, Steve Owens and Jennifer Sass to serve as members of the Chemical Safety Board, which has operated for a year with only one of its five board seats filled.
If the Senate confirms the nominations, issued April 28, the trio will join Chair and CEO Katherine Lemos on the board. Since May 1, 2020, Lemos has carried on as what she has called “a quorum of one” after the resignation of Kristen Kulinowski three months before her five-year term was set to expire.
Johnson heads the National Education Association's government relations department, focusing on the labor union's legislative work related to the safe reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her previous work experiences include serving as assistant legislative director of legislative affairs for United Auto Workers and as an occupational epidemiologist in UAW's health and safety department.
Owens specializes in environmental, health and safety issues as an attorney with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs. From 2009 to 2011, he worked as assistant administrator in the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, where his duties included managing the agency's regulatory programs on chemicals and pesticides under statutes such as the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1996.
Starting in 2001, Sass has served as a senior scientist at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, and since 2008 has taught as a part-time faculty member at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Sass's biography on the NRDC website notes that her work focuses on “understanding and explaining the science behind toxic chemical regulation and on advocating for regulations that are consistent with science, health policy and environmental law.” Additionally, she frequently has provided testimony and scientific briefs to members of Congress and federal advisory committees.
Lemos applauded the nominations in an agency press release.
“This additional support from such technically strong and professionally proficient candidates will strengthen our advocacy and outreach efforts to make chemical facilities safer for workers, communities and the environment,” Lemos said. “Board members play an important role in reviewing and voting on investigative reports and safety studies, as well as advocating from the CSB's recommendations at the federal, state and local levels to ensure the necessary steps are taken to minimize the potential for another tragic accident, and I look forward to working with them to strengthen our agency.”
NRDC voiced its support for Sass's nomination via a Twitter post April 28, writing: “She will bring a deep knowledge of science, health policy and environmental protection to her new role at a time the country needs it most.”
During a public business meeting April 2, CSB announced it has revised a board order on board member roles and responsibilities in response to criticism of the agency in recent reports from the EPA Office of Inspector General.
Issued in July, EPA OIG's most recent report on CSB found that various management challenges – namely the abundance of board vacancies and unclear policy on board member responsibilities – “will impede the ability of the CSB to function effectively.”
Acting CSB managing director David LaCerte said during the meeting that the agency is “eager to onboard additional board members for the new administration after appointment and after Senate confirmation. We are pleased to have this board order so they can hit the ground running to accomplish their objectives.”
The duration of the Senate approval process isn't scientific, however. Former board members Rick Engler and Manuel Ehrlich went through lengthy confirmation processes before joining CSB in December 2014, after their initial nominations in December 2012 and January 2014, respectively.
Kulinowski waited seven months to be confirmed after her nomination in January 2015.