Though investigations are ongoing, the State Fire Marshal’s Office is undertaking voluntary inspections of other facilities that handle ammonium nitrate – the chemical responsible for the explosion. The Fire Marshal’s Office has identified 153 facilities in the state that are believed to store ammonium nitrate. Since Texas doesn’t have a state fire code, the fire marshal lacks the authority to conduct inspections if the company resists. Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said most facilities have welcomed him and that his office has already inspected 62 sites. Five facilities refused to be inspected, though he couldn’t say why or which facilities they were.
Think about that for a moment. Texas, which we all can agree is a pretty big place, doesn’t have a state fire code, probably because freedom!
Much of the hearing was dominated by Republican lawmakers worried about burdening fertilizer businesses with new requirements. Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said while he respected the victims of the West tragedy, the industry has been doing a “pretty good job of policing themselves” and voluntarily submitting reports. “If we’re not careful we could get like the federal government and try to put diapers on cows,” he said. Connealy stressed that his agency’s inspections were strictly voluntary. “Bottom line, we’re trying to prevent another West,” he said. “Most businesses welcome us with open arms.”
We don’t want to burden Texas industries with apocryphal tales of federal regulatory overreach, which means that, occasionally, unregulated fertilizer factories will explode and nearly wipe out small towns. This is how you create a “business-friendly” environment.
However, an industry representative testified that some fertilizer companies were unsure how to comply with existing rules. Donnie Dippel, president of Texas Agricultural Industries Association, who testified at the hearing said the association has experienced a spike in calls from operators. Many of them weren’t registered with federal Department of Homeland Security, and others hadn’t filed required reports in years, or ever. Some, he said, didn’t even own a computer.
Maybe there ought to be somebody in Texas who checks up on things like this. Just for the benefit of readers who may have joined us late, when the fertilizer plant blew in West it killed 15 people, injured more than 300 more, and caused $135 million in property damage. But the real problem, you see, is not to overreact in your attempt to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.