Report Finds “Predictable Regulation” May Have Prevented West, Texas Explosion

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If you listened to Governor Perry throughout his tenure you’d have heard the words “predictable regulation” a lot, but in 2013 no one would have predicted the fatal explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant. It was of the largest industrial disasters in the state’s history, officially killing 15 people and destroying about half of the town’s homes and 3 of its 4 public schools.

The event made national headlines because the deadly mix of lax regulation and a proximity to schools and residences revealed the serious risk that many rural communities face. On Thursday, a report by the United States Chemical Safety Board outlined the unfortunate reality that not much has changed since that fateful day. The board described the incident as preventable and pointed to the fact that Texas does not have a statewide fire code. THis was acknowledged in the preliminary report as well. They also say that the state remains vulnerable to future incidents.

The 200 plus page report highlighted lapses in oversight by the state and federal government, inadequate training of first responders including volunteer firefighters, and poor handling of the material by plant operators. They also found 19 other sites in Texas in similar circumstance that house the same chemical, ammonium nitrate, which is not classified as a hazardous material.

The agency has made a series of safety recommendations including adding fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate to the federal chemical-safety program and requiring sprinkler systems for facilities that warehouse the chemical.

It’s too bad that the all too familiar phrase history repeats itself seems appropriate here as not much has been done in the wake of the tragedy. 

ThinkProgress reported a year later on what little progress had been made to prevent another tragedy:

“University of Texas at Austin journalism professor and author of several books about Texas, including City on Fire: The Explosion That Devastated A Texas Town and Ignited A Historic Legal Battle told ThinkProgress that Abbott is following in the footsteps of current Gov. Rick Perry in putting the demands of big oil and chemical operations ahead of long-range societal problems in addressing the “so-called Texas Economic Miracle:”

I don’t believe Greg Abbott is waking up every morning like Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, rubbing his hands together and saying ‘How do we screw over the little people today?’ But he is slavishly committed to a regrettable Texas tradition: Putting unbridled faith in oil and chemical companies to do the right thing. To self-regulate.”

The Dallas Morning News also admonished Governor Abbott for later his weak response and ties to the chemical industry:

“…the fact that Abbott has taken thousands of dollars from political donors related to Koch Industries, a multinational corporation with extensive chemical interests, creates particularly noxious ‘optics’ for the Republican attorney general in his campaign for governor.”

Abbott went through great lengths to protect the chemical industry and hide important safety information from the public. At the time he embarrassingly told reporters that concerned citizens could just “drive around” and ask plants what chemicals they had on site that were near their homes. It makes you wonder who our government is there to protect and serve, and what we should really be afraid of.

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About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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