First Bill In Response To West Explosion Meets GOP Pushback

The site of the deadly explosion. (File)

AUSTIN (July 1, 2014) The first bill drafted by Texas lawmakers in response to the April 17, 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West that killed 15 people met some pushback Tuesday from Republicans concerned about the cost.

GOP House members said Tuesday they worried about requiring small fertilizer operators in rural Texas counties to pay for new regulations intended to improve safety.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, authored the early draft bill after House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety spent the past year investigating explosion.

Pickett, who chairs the committee, said Texas will have another "major disaster" without any changes to the law.

The draft measure includes requiring ammonium nitrate to be stored in non-combustible containers.

State Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, however, called the early proposals "overkill."

In April State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy told the committee he wants 46 facilities that store ammonium nitrate in Texas to make safety improvements in the wake of the deadly explosion.

Connealy told lawmaker that facilities similar to West Fertilizer Co., should be given three years either to install sprinklers or to retrofit their buildings to mitigate the potential for explosions.

A total of as much as 64 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in wooden bins in the wooden building in West, 28 to 34 tons of which exploded, while an additional 20 to 30 tons in the building and another 100 tons in a nearby rail car did not explode.

The total amount of ammonium nitrate on the site was about 150 tons.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, who earlier decided that the state doesn't have to disclose the potentially dangerous chemicals stored at plants around Texas, said ordinary Texans are free to ask the plants on their own.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate Tuesday defended his ruling that the Department of State Health Services can keep locations of facilities with possibly dangerous chemicals confidential, but added, that anyone can ask companies what they're storing and get answers within 10 days.

Abbott said official confidentiality can stop terrorists, but he called the ruling a "win-win" since everyone statewide can learn about "chemicals stored in any plant."

The campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis took issue with that Tuesday.

This is nothing more than a pathetic attempt by Greg Abbott to paper over his deeply unpopular decision to keep dangerous chemical locations secret from parents, even when they are blocks from a school," said campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas.

"The standard cannot be them going door to door asking blindly whether this location has the chemicals they're worried about."