Officials from state and federal agencies have begun investigating the cause of the deadly explosion at the Kleen Energy plant in Middletown, CT that took the lives of Peter Chetulis, Ronald J. Crabb, 42, Raymond Dobratz, 58, Chris Walters, 42, and Roy Rushton.  In “Investigators to Sift Power Plant Rubble for Evidence of Criminal Negligence,” the New York Times is reporting that Middletown Mayor Sebastian N. Giuliano said investigators from the US Chemical Safety Board are not welcome on the site.

“Mr. Giuliano…said the board’s investigators had no role to play at the moment. ‘They’d be in the way,’ he said at a news conference, adding that two other federal agencies — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — ‘don’t want them up there.’”

It sounded strange to me that OSHA would object to the CSB’s presence, and I wondered if Mayor Guiliano was putting words in OSHA’s mouth.   The CSB announced on Sunday it was deploying a 7-person team to Middletown, and seasoned investigator Don Holmstrom would lead their effort.

Mayor Guiliano’s words nagged me—”don’t want them up there….don’t want them up there.”   I decided to check with US Dept of Labor spokesperson Ted Fitzgerald in Boston, whose name appeared on a condolence statement issued by Secretary Solis in response to the disaster.   Ted Fitzgerald said that OSHA works cooperatively with other investigative agencies, and the

“Middletown investigation is no exception.” 

As I suspected: Mayor Giuliano was freelancing, and speaking unauthorized for another government agency.   I can’t figure out his motivation.  Do you know?  Maybe he was speaking for the ATF (which is known to invoke “primacy” at explosion scenes) and threw in OSHA erroneously.  Regardless, I’m wary of politicians who insert themselves as spokespeople for the official investigators.

As far as OSHA and the CSB are concerned, I can imagine a scenario in which the two agencies actually work hand-in-hand during this investigation, such as conducting joint interviews, sharing data and pooling their talent.  With both agencies thinly-stretched resources that would make good sense.

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