When business runs the government people suffer

Posted in Around The State, Taxes at 9:58 am by wcnews

Let’s be clear about what our state government’s priorities are, via Gov. Rick Perry’s web site.

Texas has cultivated a business climate second to none, earning honors from national news outlets like Forbes and MSNBC for economic strength and business-friendly policies. More importantly, Texas has been consistently attracting employers seeking a better place to start or expand their businesses.

The Lone Star State’s combination of low taxes, reasonable and predictable regulatory structure and fair court system provides a stable base upon which to build the Texas economy, while the state’s diverse and hard-working workforce is prepared to meet any need an employer can present. [Emphasis added]

Texas is the most dangerous state to go to work in and Rick Perry likes it that way.

After Perry touted Texas’ low tax and low regulatory burden on businesses, an Orange County Register reporter mentioned Texas’ poor record of worker safety, asking, “Can you speak to safety in your lower-regulation state?”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with the regulation side,” Perry said. “You all in California are not very knowledgeable about the energy industry” which, he said,“is a fairly dangerous workplace’ compared to other industries. He argued that worker injuries and deaths would not be reduced by better safety regulations: “It’s not because of lack of regulations.”

The wonder of libertarian zoning laws, West, Texas edition.

But compounding the carnage, it seems as if half the town was leveled including several schools and houses five blocks from the plant. But wait, there were houses five blocks from a fertilizer plant? There were actually houses across the street from this plant, and not just houses, but two of the town’s three schools:

This (via McBlogger), West Explosion Raises Regulatory Questions.

Recovery efforts continued Friday in West, two days after the town was devastated by a fertilizer plant explosion. And as investigators search for the cause of the explosion, environmentalists said that the situation highlighted lax regulations in Texas for plants handling dangerous chemicals.

So far there are at least 14 confirmed fatalities and many of the 200 injured remain hospitalized.

The fertilizer plant was located near to several buildings, including a school, which were heavily damaged or destroyed by the blast. The plant’s owner, a West resident named Donald Adair, put out a statement on Friday saying, “My heart is broken with grief for the tragic losses to so many families in our community.” As the investigation proceeds, he said, the company is “presenting all employees for interviews and will assist in the fact-finding to whatever degree possible.”


“We really need to look at dangerous, hazardous facilities like this, no matter how small they might be, in relationship to schools and nursing homes and so forth,” Carman said. In West, the situation could have been worse if children were in school, he said.

Hind, of Greenpeace, said that the location of facilities with dangerous chemicals in urban areas was not limited to Texas. Railcars filled with chlorine can go through big cities like Detroit and Miami, he said.

Patricia Kilday-Hart has more, Scope of threat in West a surprise to feds.

No control over safety

Whether a fire could trigger a devastating and deadly explosion was not a factor to be considered under state law, said Larry Soward, who was on the commission at the time.

“Unfortunately, the actual safety of the operators is not something TCEQ has any jurisdiction over,” said Soward, now a consultant with Air Alliance Houston. “I’ve said for a long time we ought to be able to look at whether something is properly located from a public health and environmental standpoint.”

State Chemist Tim Herrman, whose office oversees the 592 Texas fertilizer facilities that have registered with the state, said inspectors “are in those establishments on a frequent basis,” but strictly to enforce laws pertaining to packaging, labeling and testing for contaminants. His office maintains a list of 1,105 firms registered to manufacture or distribute fertilizer in Texas. “We do what the law tells us to do.”

On Saturday, his small office - actually a department within Texas A&M University - posted public records showing the plant had been cited several times in the last decade for mislabeling the contents of its products.

TCEQ budget cut

But fertilizer production is overseen in many other states by state Departments of Agriculture, and many of them were involved when the federal government promulgated new rules requiring disclosure of large quantities of ammonium nitrate.

Environmental activists said Texas is proud of its small government philosophy that imposes few regulations, but that means Texas lags behinds other states in protecting the environment. Last session, the Texas Legislature cut the TCEQ’s budget by $305 million, leading to a reduction of 235 full-time employees.

Also, volunteer fire departments aren’t subject to the same oversight as their paid, professional counterparts. The Texas Commission on Fire Protection has adopted some standards promulgated by the National Fire Protection Association, but does not oversee volunteer fire departments. Had the plant been inspected by a fire safety expert enforcing NFPA standards, it would have had to comply with specific codes addressing safe storage of ammonium nitrate.

At a press conference late Friday, Gov. Rick Perry expressed a willingness to review whether state regulations were sufficient. He pointed out that the plant was subject to “local zoning, state requirements and federal requirements” and that “sometimes they mesh and sometimes they don’t.”

“If there’s a better way to do this, we want to know about it,” Perry said. “I assure you with the Legislature in session, there will be plenty of opportunities” to examine the regulatory framework.

Travis Considine, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, indicated it was too early to predict whether new legislation would be adopted in response to the explosion.

“As with any incident of this magnitude, the only prudent course of action is to determine and review the facts first,” he said.

In a state with austerity budgeting and an emphasis on being “business friendly” something like this was bound to happen. Whether any of this changes is up to us. If we keep electing the same people to office we should not expect different results.

Further Reading:
Hazards at West Fertilizer plant were largely unknown to public.
Come To Texas, Where It’s Better For Business!.
After West Fertilizer Explosion, Concerns Over Safety, Regulation and Zoning.
In Photos: Fertilizer Plant Explosion in West, Texas.

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