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January 24, 2014 at 4:12 PM

Rep. Larsen rips agency investigating Anacortes refinery explosion

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen says he’s “exasperated” with the federal agency investigating the 2010 explosion at Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery that killed seven workers.

A long-delayed report on the explosion is due next week from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. But Larsen, D-Everett is not happy with the way the agency plans to release the report.

In a letter to Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chairman of the safety board, Larsen complained the agency won’t be releasing a copy of the report prior to a public meeting scheduled for next Thursday. Larsen is also miffed the agency quietly changed that meeting from a full public hearing into a “listening session” at which testimony will be limited.

“The Anacortes community deserves better after four years of waiting and countless delays from CSB,” Larsen wrote in his letter to Moure-Eraso.

Daniel Horowitz, a spokesman for the CSB, disputed some of Larsen’s criticisms, saying the agency is releasing the report “on the same schedule that was always planned.” He added the public will have 45 days to comment on the report after its release.

Moure-Eraso sent a written response to Larsen Friday assuring the congressman the current schedule means “the public will have more — not less — opportunity to have their voices heard on this critically important case.”

The CSB is charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents and making recommendations on how they can be prevented in the future.

The tension between Washington political leaders and the agency has surfaced before. Last year, six members of state’s congressional delegation sent a letter to the agency complaining about the pace of its investigation.

Asked why the CSB has taken four years to complete its probe, Horowitz said “we wish it had been completed more quickly” but said the investigation was technically complex and noted the CSB is “an extremely small agency” that receives “very frequent requests” from Congress over its work investigating various chemical accidents.

Tesoro was fined $2.39 million by the state Department of Labor and Industries over the accident, which regulators said could have been prevented. L&I cited Tesoro for 44 workplace violations, from willful disregard of safety regulations to failing to inspect and maintain decaying 40-year-old equipment.

Killed in the blast were Daniel Aldridge, 50, of Anacortes; Matthew Bowen, 31, of Arlington; Darrin Hoines, 43, of Ferndale; Lew Janz, 41, of Anacortes; Kathryn Powell, 29, of Burlington; Donna Van Dreumel, 36, of Oak Harbor; and Matt Gumbel, 34, of Oak Harbor.

The families of the slain workers, as well as another who was injured, sued Tesoro and other corporations involved in the refinery for wrongful deaths.

Tesoro and Shell, the refinery’s previous owner, settled with the plaintiffs for about $39 million, according to David Beninger, an attorney representing the families.

The lawsuit continues against a third company, Lloyd’s Register Energy Americas, which had inspected equipment at the refinery 18 months prior to the accident, Beninger said.

Comments | More in Politics Northwest | Topics: Anacortes refinery explosion, Chemical Safety Board, Rep. Rick Larsen


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