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    Friday, September 1, 2017

    Republican Policies, More Than Harvey, Responsible For Arkema Plant Disaster

    The story of the Arkema plant in Houston is really the story of Republican laissez-faire policies writ large. And now those policies are contributing to the ecological disaster that is currently engulfing Houston and coastal Texas.

    Only months before Hurricane Harvey hit, Scott Pruitt at the EPA decided to rollback an Obama era rule that mandated increased safety and create specific plans for accidents and emergencies at chemical plants that used certain materials or compounds. This rule was prompted by the explosion at a West, Texas chemical plant that killed 15 people. That rule was scheduled to go into effect on March 14th of this year and certainly would have covered the Arkema plant, which, it should be noted, has already been fined a pathetic $90,000 by OSHA for ten serious safety violations. That is until Pruitt rolled it back, delaying its implementation by at least eighteen months and citing the increased costs the rule would put on the industry.

    Pruitt had opposed the rule when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma and had received considerable donations from the chemical industry's lobbying group, the American Chemistry Council (ACC). He was supported in this endeavor by Texas Republicans who also received significant dollars from the ACC. "Among those who have received more than $100,000 from the industry are powerful Texas lawmakers including Sen. John Cornyn (R), Rep. Joe Barton (R), Rep. Pete Olson (R), Rep. Gene Green (D), Rep. Pete Sessions (R) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R)." The firm was also supported in the lobbying effort from the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton who co-authored a letter that criticized the rule and recommended it not be implemented. Said Paxton, "It is difficult to fathom how this collection of burdensome, costly, bureaucratic regulatory requirements does anything to enhance accidental chemical release prevention...This unauthorized expansion of the program does not make facilities safer, but it does subject facilities to even more burdensome, duplicative and needless regulation." I'm not sure those downwind of the plant in Crosby feel that way now.

    Texas Governor Greg Abbott had already given chemical plants in the state considerable cover during his term as Attorney General by blocking public access to information about where dangerous chemicals are located. Incredibly, Arkema is citing Abbott's decision in refusing to make public its Tier II chemical inventory or even a map of its facility, citing, as Abbott did, the threat of terrorism. And it's not like Arkema does not already receive enough favorable treatment from the state, as the firm has received $8.7 million in subsidies from Texas.

    Because of Abbott's rule, there are almost surely other chemical facilities along the Texas coast that have flooded and are leeching toxic materials but it will impossible to know where that might be happening and what the chemicals are. The only reason we even know about Arkema was because the company was so concerned with a potential uncontrolled explosion that they let authorities know.

    What is clear, however, is that this explosion would have never happened if the Obama rule had gone into effect and been enforced. There is a simple compound that can be added to the peroxides in the Arkema plant that would neutralize any chance of explosion even if refrigeration failed. Of course, the would also render the peroxides useless to the company. I believe there are other states where this safety capability is mandated. But certainly not in Texas.

    The disaster in Texas is certainly unprecedented. But the explosions and releases at the Arkema Crosby plant did not have to happen. It was Republican policies that allowed that.

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