When an event occurs such as the Gulf spill or a fire at a refinery there may be a significant amount of tension between these two ideologies.
On August 6, 2012, an accident at Chevron’s Richmond refinery miles northeast of San Francisco, California, resulted in almost 15,000 people seeking help at hospitals for breathing problems. In fact, Chevron has paid $10,000,000.00 so far to settle claims pressed by area residents. That sum also included money paid to compensate area hospitals and local government agencies.
Now there is a battle being waged between the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (“CSHIB”), which conducted the safety investigation and the USEPA which is conducting a criminal investigation. The CSHIB conducted over one hundred (100) interviews as part of its safety mandate.
The CSHIB relies on cooperation from industry to carry out its mission of finding the causes of accidents and making recommendations to avoid them. The USEPA has over 200 agents to keep busy investigating environmental crimes. Now the USEPA wants those CSHIB interviews to further its criminal investigation.
The CSHIB has gone to court to attempt to quash the grand jury subpoenas issued on behalf of the USEPA. The battle is being handled in the United States District Court in San Francisco in the District Judge Charles Breyer’s courtroom (he is the brother of USSC Justice Stephen Breyer).
You may ask why the CSHIB is taking such a stance? If the CSHIB surrenders the interview records, there is the potential that future witnesses will invoke their constitutional rights and prevent the CSHIB from accomplishing its mission.
It just highlights how two public priorities (safety and enforcement) can be at odds with each other.
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