WEST (August 1, 2013)—President Barack Obama signed an executive order Thursday directing federal agencies to work jointly and with state and local authorities to determine how to avoid another chemical plant disaster such as the one that engulfed West on April 17.
The powerful explosion in West, which claimed 15 lives, injured 200 or more and damaged or destroyed dozens of buildings, spared calls for reforms in the way the nation’s chemical plants are regulated and supervised and about how information about the plants is shared among agencies.
The order directs federal agencies to develop a pilot program of best practices for plant safety by Sept. 15 and a list of proposals by Nov. 1 dealing with the safe storage and handling of ammonium nitrate, the chemical that exploded after fire broke out at West Fertilizer Co.
Within less than a year, the order calls for standards to identify and respond to risks posed by chemical facilities.
West Mayor Tommy Muska told KTVT-TV the order represents a step in the right direction.
“If there's any good that could come out of this disaster and the death of the first responders, it would be regulations that could prevent this from happening to another community,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who has led the push on Capitol Hill for reforms in the wake of the deadly West explosion, said she told the president last week about specific ideas from a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee that she chaired.
“I couldn't be more gratified to learn today that he is taking executive action to follow through on the very solutions that were discussed and that I promised to pursue,” she said.
"As I told the President, the EPA has not updated its alert since 1997, and the best practices recommended by other federal agencies such as OSHA are not being uniformly followed.