After ruling last month that the locations of dangerous chemicals can be kept hidden from the public (so that terrorists don't get a hold of them), Greg Abbott came forward this week to clarify his stance. As the Texas Tribune reported on Tuesday, Abbott “said Texans still have a right to find out where the substances are stored – as long as they know which companies to ask.”
Greg Abbott's proposal for those who want to know whether they're living next to a storage facility for dangerous chemicals is simple:
“You know where they are if you drive around. You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do, and they can tell you, well, we do have chemicals or we don't have chemicals, and if they do, they tell which ones they have.”
That's right, Greg Abbott believes that instead of having the government release chemical storage records to the public, citizens should just drive up to facilities and ask nicely if they're holding stockpiles of any potentially dangerous chemicals.
It's completely ludicrous, and shows no concern for public safety whatsoever. And it's not even the worst of what Abbott said.
Read the rest of Greg Abbott's statements after the jump. Talking with reporters on Tuesday, Abbott continued his explanation of how Texans could gain access to records of chemical storage locations:
Abbott said the law requires private companies to tell citizens within 10 days whether they have chemicals. When asked if that meant citizens had the right to go onto their private property to demand the information, he initially said “absolutely.”
Abbott corrected himself seconds later.
“Just to make clear, you may not be able to walk on private property. But you can send an email or letter or notice to anyone who owns any kind of private property or facility, saying that under the community right to know law, you need to tell me within 10 days what chemicals you have,” Abbott said. “It doesn't matter who you are or where you are, you are obligated under that law to respond.”
Abbott also expressed that he believes most Texans generally know ahead of time whether they're moving in next to potentially dangerous chemical facilities. Said Abbott, “You drive around the neighborhood. You're going to know everything that exists in the neighborhood in which you move.”
So Abbott's vision of protecting public safety is essentially as follows: If a person wants to move into a new neighborhood, they must drive around it beforehand looking for potential chemical storage facilities. If they find any, they have to call or email the facility asking for chemical storage information. Of course, there's no guarantee that the facility is telling the truth, since there's no public record to compare it to. So, concerned Texans will have to call chemical facilities and take them at their word that they're a safe place to live by.
It's an unrealistic expectation. After the deadly explosion in West last year, the Dallas Morning News took publicly available data and identified 74 facilities across the state that house ammonium nitrate, the chemical that caused the explosion. Seven of those facilities were within half a mile of 1,000 or more Texas residents. Under Abbott's new rule, reports like that will be made impossible–unless the Dallas Morning News wants to send reporters driving around the entire state looking for chemical facilities to call or email about their ammonium nitrate stores.
Abbott's ridiculous position is likely explained by his connection to the Koch brothers' industries. As Wayne Slater at the Dallas Morning News reported, “Five months after an ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people in West, Attorney General Greg Abbott received a $25,000 contribution from…the head of Koch Industries' fertilizer division.” Since then Abbott has received a total of over $75,000 from Koch interests. Suddenly, Abbott's opposition to regulating chemical facilities makes a lot more sense.
Wendy Davis's campaign responded to Abbott's statements by pointing out how ridiculous it was to expect Texans to drive around and ask chemical facilities about their stores. Said campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas:
“This is nothing more than a pathetic attempt by Greg Abbott to paper over his deeply unpopular decision to keep dangerous chemical locations secret from parents, even when they are blocks from a school. The standard cannot be them going door to door asking blindly whether this location has the chemicals they're worried about.“
Everyone recognizes that it's unreasonable to expect citizens to email Pfizer every time they take a drug to ask about potential side effects, or to think people should be required to email Nabisco if they want to know how many calories are in an Oreo cookie–and to trust these companies at their word without any standard to hold them accountable. Greg Abbott is asking Texans to accept that same standard for corporate factories and facilities that hold potentially deadly chemicals. Texans deserve better than a governor who refuses to stand up for their safety, putting corporate interests ahead of saving their lives.