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The TX Disaster: A Natural Consequences of GOP Opposition to Government Regulation of Industry

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Among other terrible stuff that happened this past week, the worst in terms of death and destruction wasn’t in Boston – as bad and horrifying as that was – but in West, Texas.

At least 13 people, including firefighters and emergency medical workers, were killed and about 200 more injured in the massive explosion and fire at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, according to officials.

The number of deaths and injuries could still grow as search and recovery efforts continue at the site of the plant, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

The explosion rocked the rural Texas town Wednesday night, flattening buildings for blocks around the fertilizer plant. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.

Why was the destruction and carnage from this accident so bad? As Kos points out – and this is almost impossible to believe if you think about it for 2 seconds – “There were actually houses across the street from this plant, and not just houses, but two of the town’s three school.

Who in their right mind would approve putting a plant that deals with highly explosive materials (as Kos notes, “Fertilizer is a well-known component of homemade bombs for a reason – it’s extremely explosive) right next to houses, schools, and a nursing home? Simple: “Texas being Texas, apparently the ‘freedom’ to set up shop next to a bomb trumps everything else-including the lives and properties of far too many in West.” That, of course, is the “libertarian” economic worldview to a “t” – let industry do its thing with minimal, if any, government regulation, and the all-knowing market will take care of the rest. Obviously, you can see how that worked out in West, Texas. But of course it’s not just confined to Texas; it’s in many other states as well, and increasingly in the country as a whole, as Republicans push their “let industry do ANYTHING and if the public suffers, oh well” agenda. Same thing with “fracking” (which threatens public health and water supplies, also is driving demand for potentially explosive ammonia factories) and many other industrial activities…

Meanwhile, the Washington Post quotes a resident of West, TX as saying, “You can’t really blame anyone…Only God knows why this happened.”

Except for one thing: of course there’s blame to go around here, and it’s not a mystery knowable only to a deity. To the stark contrary, this was a man-made disaster all the way, from the crazy zoning that Kos talked about, to the fact that the last inspection of that plant by OSHA was in 1985 – nearly 30 years ago! – at which time the planned received a whopping “$30 fine for a serious violation for storage of anhydrous ammonia.” Wow. More recently, in 2011, the plant was inspsected by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which “issued a fine of $10,100 [later lowered to $5,250] for missing placards and ‘not having a security plan’ in violation of Hazardous Materials Regulations.” Hmmmm.

Sadly, this is pretty much par for the course in our country, even as Republicans scream that there’s too MUCH regulation of industry. It’s the same argument they make all the time, such as with the coal industry, and in that case they were catastrophically wrong in the April 2010 Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine disaster. An independent investigation found that this accident was – are you sitting down? – “man-made and could have been prevented.” Once again, this may not be a shocker, but it’s still a disgrace that should anger all of us.

By the way, the top comments on the Washington Post story about the West, TX disaster are brilliant. Here are a few that jumped out at me:

*”God had nothing to do with this tragedy. The citizens of West Texas need to move beyond prayer and lay the blame where it belongs – on corporate indifference.

*”This wasn’t God’s will. The plant had been cited several times for safety issues and it was resolved with their payment of meager, watered down fines. So much so, that poor safety was just a cost of doing business and maximizing profits.”

*”This happened because the company that owned the fertilizer depot lied–that is, lied after it chose to fail to implement the necessary safety measures needed–lied to increase profits–and then caused the deaths and injuries that resulted. The owners should be charged with murder and jailed.

*”What can you expect from a state where the culture is anti-regulatory, anti-anything that suggests there is something called the common good that requires cooperation for the common safety.”

*”The why of this tragedy is not hard to determine. Texas is a state that is notoriously lax on enforcing safety regulation on large industrial facilities…”

*”…Business unbound from regulations. A conservative utopia where you can build this bomb in the middle of a residential neighborhood with out fear of any inspections or expectations of working safety. Protected from lawsuits by corporate friendly laws. The next step in this catastrophe is to declare the corporation bankrupt and start the next venture.”

And that, my friends, is the vision held by crony capitalist “conservatives” like Ken Cuccinelli, who spends ungodly amounts of time and taxpayer resources on wild goose chases, but who can’t bestir himself to exert an iota’s worth of effort to protect workers, communities, the environment, or anything else that really matters. Priorities, priorities, don’t ya know?

  • ir003436

    I’m an EMT in a rural Virginia county where farming is king.  We and the local volunteer fire departments make annual training visits to the places in our county where bad stuff is handled and stored

    One example:  A farmer’s co-op storage facility 300 yards away from the high school normally has 8-10 tons of ammonium nitrate on site.  At times of the year when farmers are spreading fertilizer, that can go up to 50 tons or more. That’s ammonium nitrate . . .  as in Tim McVeigh.

    Oh, and did I tell you they have diesel fuel in the same building and damn near everyone working there smokes??

    YEEEHAAAAA!!!