Forgive me for taking a momentary break from uncovering impeachment news to make an important public service announcement. You may have noted that the news has been brimming with the latest on the death (thank the lord) of the Austin bomber. You may not have heard the news that a chemical plant turned itself into a bomb in Fort Worth over the weekend.
Investigators believe a worker dragging his foot along a factory floor sparked a Thursday explosion at a Texas chemical plant that injured two workers and left a third unaccounted for, and fears of another blast amid the toxic chemicals prevented crews from battling the ensuing blaze, an official said. Nine emergency-rescue and fire departments responded to the blaze at the Tri-Chem Industries plant in Cresson, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Dallas, but were evacuated from the vicinity because of risk of exposure and of another explosion, Cresson Mayor Bob Cornett told The Associated Press. The worker who dragged his foot while chemicals were being mixed caught fire from the waist up and was airlifted with critical burn injures to a Dallas hospital. Another worker with less severe injuries also was treated at a hospital. Cornett identified the missing worker as 27-year-old Dylan Mitchell.
My heart goes out to the family of young Dylan Mitchell, a man – likely a good man – simply trying to make a paycheck, do his job. However, had Mitchell been killed by a Muslim man yelling “Allah Akbar” while driving a bus over him, the entire nation would have his death in our prayers, and the nation would rage at the senseless death. To the family, the man’s passing is a tragedy, they will miss him, surely. It will not matter to them that the bomb that killed him came from an accident at work, rather than the intentional act of a terrorist.
We pass regulations because business, especially production of necessary things such as fertilizer, can be dangerous. We put regulations in place to protect people like Dylan Mitchell, in the same way that we put metal detectors in airports to protect ourselves when we fly. These “regulations” cost money. It is expensive to maintain a safe plant, and it is expensive to put metal detectors into each airport. But, we don’t hear screaming from GOP politicians about the cost of the metal detectors in airports. We only hear it about the cost of “regulations.” That is because dangerous business is usually not particularly dangerous to the owners of the business, who likely aren’t working on that chemically-laced floor, and maybe don’t know the Dylan Mitchell’s of their company, personally.
Please remember the next time you hear Donald Trump or some other Republican politician brag about “cutting regulations,” that the regulations were there for a reason. Sure, some may be outdated, or were based on bad science, perhaps are no longer needed on a cost-benefit basis. But, that is not how we hear Republicans frame regulations. We hear the word “regulation” as “bad across the board.” How can “regulations” be bad ‘across the board” when they are so varied? Serve such different purposes in different industries? The answer is easy. They all cost money, and that money is not paid by the Dylan Mitchell’s of the world, but by the owners of the business. That is why “business friendly” states – like Texas – brag about their lack of “regulatory red tape.” But, what they are really saying is that they won’t force the cost of safe workplaces onto business owners. In Texas, companies do not even need keep a list of the chemicals they have on plant. From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
A spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state agency responsible for coordinating the cleanup, declined to produce a list of the plant’s on-site chemicals, telling an AP reporter to file a public information request. In recent years, Texas leaders have made it increasingly difficult for the public to find out about the chemicals manufactured and stored at such plants. After a fertilizer plant explosion in the city of West, Texas, killed 15 people in 2013, Greg Abbott, who was then attorney general and is now governor, ruled that state agencies could withhold information about hazardous chemicals because of “ongoing terroristic activity.”
“Ongoing terroristic actvity” isn’t even a “thing” but were it actually one, it would be less of a concern to the population of Fort Worth right now than knowing whether they are in danger from the chemicals floating in the air above them. The federal government hasn’t confirmed whether or not the community is in danger from the smoke:
When it comes to how dangerous the smoke from the plant is, local officials and FEMA have given statements that range from “non-toxic” to “the plume is incredibly dangerous.”
So, which is it?
The Obama administration reacted to the original fertilizer plant blast in West Texas in 2012 by attempting comprehensive federal regulation. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:
In 2013, President Obama finally issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to enhance chemical facility safety. EPA then undertook a multi-year effort of stakeholder engagement and requests for information in the run-up to a proposed rule. After receiving comments from the regulated industry, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders, a rule was finalized in January. The updated rule, which modernized the EPA’s Risk Management Program, was scheduled to go into effect March 14, 2017, though some of the provisions were scheduled to phase in over time, some as far out as 2022, which gave the covered facilities some flexibility in figuring out how to comply with the updated requirements. Upon entering office, Administrator Pruitt put this rule on hold until February2019, almost 2 years later than the rule was supposed to go into effect. This decision prompted the legal challenge from UCS and others.
Because Charlie Pierce found the story, and writes better than me, I point the reader to his summation:
So, the Obama administration comes up with this rule and it provides four goddamn years of public input from every group that has a stake in the rule. Then Pruitt and Camp Runamuck blow into town and push the date back nearly two years. Where do they get these people?
Again, next time you hear Trump trumpette cutting regulations without referencing why he did so, remind yourself that when Trump and his friends think of “regulations,” they do not think of “protection” for people like Dylan Mitchell, they think of things that cut into profits. The owner of the fertilizer plant surely didn’t want Dylan Mitchell to die, that is not the issue or the question. The question is whether owners and Republicans are willing to cut into some profits in order to save the lives of Dylan Mitchells into the future …oh, and perhaps the people living in Fort Worth right now.
Never forget, deregulation kills far more Americans than terrorism, and we should no more cheer mindless cutting of regulation than we cheer on negligent spy agencies.