Class Warfare Blog

April 20, 2013

The West, Texas Debacle, Part 2

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 8:39 am
Tags: , ,

In the debate over governmental regulations (too much, too little, just right?) consider the situation at the fertilizer plant that exploded Wednesday in West, Texas, killing many (at least 14 bodies recovered so far). Fertilizer plants and depots are required to report to the Department of Homeland Security when they hold 400 lb (0.2 tons) or more of ammonium nitrate. Homeland Security’s fear is that such facilities could be targets for terrorists, for now obvious reasons. Filings this year with the Texas Department of Health Services, which weren’t shared with Homeland Security, show the plant had 270 tons of it on hand last year, over a thousand times more than they should have to not report.

One might speculate that plant managers were ignorant of the laws involved in this situation. But it is their job to be aware of the dangers of any and all chemicals on their site. Each and every delivery of said chemicals include MSDS’s (Material Safety Data Sheets) and other documents with warnings about quantities one is allowed to store, so such ignorance is at best willful. (In California you have to sign acknowledging the receipt of the documents with every delivery; I don’t know what the situation is in Texas.)

Self-regulation is fine as I don’t, and I assume you don’t, want to pay for an army of inspectors/regulators swarming over every business in the land. But self-regulation requires a commitment on the part of a business to conform to such regulations. Should not a business license include a pledge that the owner will do so? Spot checking will still be required as struggling businesses will still be tempted to cut corners, but regular inspections sounds excessive.

It is easy to see that compliance with easily known regulations should have prevented, most certainly would have minimized, this tragedy. I can’t imagine that this is going to fade in the memories of the residents of West, a small community. I worked near a small city in California where even recently they talked about a mammoth explosion that occurred in the rail yards of that city . . . during World War 2. That city was much larger than West. I can’t imagine that most people in West didn’t know someone who worked at or near that plant. The emotional scars will last for a long, long time.

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9 Comments »

  1. I am stunned at the zoning incompetence of this whole disaster. A needless loss of life if there ever was one

    Comment by john zande — April 20, 2013 @ 8:58 am | Reply

    • Texas used to, and I assume still does, allow all kinds of mixing of businesses and schools and housing. A church can find an oil well popping up in the next lot and not think it strange. Apparently this plant existed long before the surrounding edifices, so they aren’t to blame for that. But you’d think they might become more careful and cognizant of their neighbors as they slowly encroached on their “open space.”

      S

      Comment by stephenpruis — April 20, 2013 @ 9:05 am | Reply

  2. In a follow up report to OSHA I believe, perhaps it was the EPA, the company failed to report they were storing ammonium nitrate, the very element Timothy McVeigh used for the Oklahoma City bombing. This type of reporting is required in such an event that occurred where a fire started and first responders needed to be aware of the potential hazards and threat to them.

    I’m for self-regulation too but clearly when this trust has been violated and the result is the tragic loss of life and property as what happened in West, then criminal charges need to be issued and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

    Comment by lbwoodgate — April 20, 2013 @ 9:03 am | Reply

    • I agree. McVeigh mixed his AN with fuel oil which makes for quite a devastating bomb (obviously it fit into the back of his van). This fertilizer company might have had 100’s of tons of the stuff on hand (not all of which blew, but …).

      I agree with you also about the criminal charges. But if we can’t jail a single banker for bringing the world’s economy down, I wonder why we would do so with these poor schleps. Possibly to prove we are still “tough on crime.”

      Hell, I even feel sorry for the little brother Boston Bomber. He seemed to have a nice life going and I suspect his older brother took him for a ride down the rabbit hole. I also wouldn’t put it past Putin or even our government to have put these guys up to it to make sure that Chechna and the U.S. never made friends. It is a sad thing that we can’t even trust our own country in foreign affairs, but I suspect that such trust is misplaced in a government that largely exists as an extension of business policies.

      Comment by stephenpruis — April 20, 2013 @ 9:12 am | Reply

  3. If self-regulation doesn’t work for people, there is absolutely no way it could work for corporations run by people. (And let’s not forget that “corporations are people”, too.)

    Comment by List of X — April 20, 2013 @ 9:13 am | Reply

    • Touche. But actually most people are, most often, self-regulating. Hell, we don’t know the law well enough to have it be a deterent to illegal behavior. Consider as we go through our days that opportunities for bad behavior abound–we could ram the car in front of us. We could push people onto the train tracks. We could kick a dog. I think empathy and a sense of fairness guides us more than external constraints.

      Comment by stephenpruis — April 20, 2013 @ 9:17 am | Reply

      • Yes, in a lot of cases self-regulation works. But then there are at least a few people who don’t self-regulate well for any given behavior: occasionally, somebody will kick a dog or push another person onto train tracks.
        And there are behaviors where most of us don’t self-regulate, like driving under the speed limit.

        Comment by List of X — April 20, 2013 @ 11:13 am | Reply

        • If you ask a group of people how far above the speed limit it is okay to drive, there is surprising agreement. (I have done this as a school teacher of adults.) We do self-regulate: A. We will drive over the speed limt and B. But only by about 25% max. Self regulation is not doing what somebody else tells you to.

          Comment by stephenpruis — April 20, 2013 @ 9:50 pm | Reply

          • The problem is that your question essentially was “how far can we bend the law to think it’s still Ok”. I don’t want a company making my food or building my car to start asking themselves the same question, and I’m sure neither do you 🙂 (though, I’m sure they ask that already)

            Comment by List of X — April 20, 2013 @ 11:32 pm | Reply


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