You get what you want in Texas

The Austin American Statesman today published a frank review of the Texas rules on disclosure of chemical storage “Information scarce on chemical plant blasts — just like Texas wanted“. I wrote about this issue precisely back in “The Texas Freedom Illusion” and after the “West Disaster” report.

In essence, under the veil of “security”, Governor Abbott has effectively just stopped individual Texans from finding out about these storage facilities, and in the same way as you are much more likely to be shot by a gun owning family member, than a jihadi; you are much more likely to get killed, poisoned, or otherwise impacted by a local company than you are by terrorists exploiting the freely available information.

This regulation was alway problematical and is going to bite ordinary Texans until it is repealed. The idea that people have time to go around to each and every high fenced industrial lots within a mile or so of their home and ask what chemicals they are storing is just nonsense, more so in large cities.

 

Go, West!

What the West report tells us is that 33(83% of the total) facilities in Texas that store fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate still are located within a quarter mile of homes. Apart from weakening the reporting and classification requirements, the only substantive thing Governor Abbott has done is to remove your right to find out if you live near a storage location.

Today also marks the day that the Chemical Safety Board reported back on the West disaster, another recent shadow over Texas.

There is no surprise that the report findings include damning conclusions on the disaster; a massive explosion at a fertilizer storage and distribution facility fatally injured twelve volunteer firefighters, two members of the public and caused hundreds of injuries. . The preliminary findings are here.

In the months following the disaster, I for one was appalled at the actions of then Texas Attorney General, now Texas Governor, Greg Abbotts actions. I wrote first about this in a June 2015 post called “The Texas Freedom Illusion“. In that, I remarked

The good news is Texas isn’t much worse than many others, at least we still have the ultimate freedom, to leave.

Which, coincidentally what I’ve done, leave. I also discussed West in the guise of the restrictions of information, when discussing the 1947 Texas City Disaster.

What the West report tells us is that 33(83% of the total) facilities in Texas that store fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate still are located within a quarter mile of homes. Apart from weakening the reporting and classification requirements, the only substantive thing Governor Abbott has done is to remove your right to find out if you live near a storage location.

Remember, you too have the freedom to leave.

China, still not big or bad enough

The primary difference being, as the updated NY Times article on Tianjin chemical storage shows, there were public records about chemical storage in China, not so much Texas. Freedom is an illusion.

china chemicals

Back on August 14th, the Austin American Statesman carried an article from the NY TImes about the dangers of Chemical storage on it’s front page. It did so without even a footnote highlighting the fact there is little in Texas that, in 2015, prevents the same thing happening. You can read an updated NY Times article here, or the one highlighted above here.

Of course, we had the total disaster in West, Texas in April 2013. Since then there has been little to prevent the same thing happening. When he was Texas Attorney General, Governor Abbott restricted any information about Chemical Storage held by the State, as posted over a year ago.. He said at the time, you can always show up and ask what chemicals are stored on a site near you. A fine example of what the Tianjin residents would call “shuǎzuǐpí“.

Of course, as we are always being told, “everything is bigger in Texas“,  and when it comes to chemical explosions, China has a long way to go to match Texas. Consider the pictures below, pretty similar.

Chemical Explosion

The pair on the left are from the 1947 Texas City Disaster, where 581 were killed, and over 5,000 injured, with more than 500 homes destroyed. Believed to be the USA largest ever and most destructive industrial accident. It ranks among the worlds largest man-made disasters. The pictures on the right are from the Tianjin explosions which killed 147 people.

The primary difference being, as the updated NY Times article on Tianjin chemical storage shows, there were public records about chemical storage in China, not so much Texas. Freedom is an illusion.

Freedom of Information, your Texas?

If Governor-elect Abbott continues like State Attorney General Abbott, Texas will be seen increasingly like a 3rd world banana Republic, than a first world economy and US super state. In the modern connected world, successful governments and organizations thrive on openness and transparency. The people don’t need to be told everything all the time, they do though have both the right and have the confidence to know their government and politicians are acting lawfully.

2014-11-02 22.57.06Congratulations to Governor Elect Greg Abbott.

Here is hoping that Governor Elect Abbott will understand the big difference between being Attorney General and being Governor. As attorney general he used his legal knowledge, and qualifications to hide, obfuscate and in some cases flat out refused to allow disclosure of reasonable information to the public about the operation of their government, and the state.

The picture above is taken from last weeks Austin American Statesman front page. It doesn’t matter if I, or you, agree with his politics, what should be beyond question is his (mis)use of the law to hide what he’d done. In this instance, the Statesman had applied for a copy of an abortion lobbyist/litigation-consultant contract to work with the Attorney Generals’ own office during the HB2 bill process in 2013. The contract became a big deal during the five-day federal court trial over HB2.

Abbott’s office refused to release the document saying it was exempt. In a strange reversal, after early voting closed, the Open Records Division allowed its’ release. Abbott tried to claim the consultant was a distraction, and there we have the problem. When government agencies are ashamed of its’ actions they look to bury the news, or hide the truth. The government becomes the problem, not the truth.

Other decisions that Attorney General Abbott has taken in the recent past where transparency was sacrificed and secrecy, confidentiality, and security were used include:

If Governor-elect Abbott continues like State Attorney General Abbott, Texas will be seen increasingly like a 3rd world banana Republic, than a first world economy and US super state. In the modern connected world, successful governments and organizations thrive on openness and transparency. The people don’t need to be told everything all the time, they do though have both the right and have the confidence to know their government and politicians are acting lawfully.

Governor-elect Abbott do you want to spend your time being a distraction, or are you actually going to lead?

Notes:

Decaying Texas

It’s been an interesting month. I live in Austin Texas, boom town USA. Everything is happening in construction, although nothing much in transport. In many ways Austin reminds me of rapidly developing cities in China, India and other developing countries. I’ve travelled some inside Texas, but most on I10 and out East. I’ve tended to dismiss what I’ve seen in small towns, mostly because I figured they were unrepresentative.

Earlier this month I did my first real US roadtrip. I had my Mum with me for a month and figured a week or so out of the heat of Texas would be a good thing. We covered 2,500 miles, most up from North West Texas, also New Mexico, and Colorado. On the way back we went via Taos, Santa Fe, and Roswell and then back through West Texas.

There they were small town after small town, decaying. Every now and again you’d drive through a bigger town that wasn’t as bad, but overall massive decay, mostly in the commercial space. Companies had given up, gone bust, or got run out of town by a Walmart 30-50 files away. Even in the bigger ones, there was really no choice, there were Dollar Stores, Pizza Hut, McDonalds or Burger King, Sonic or Dairy Queen, and gas stations. Really not much else, except maybe a Mexican food stop.

It was only just before sunset on the drive back through West Texas, with my Mum asleep in the backseat, I worked out that my camera and telephoto lens rested perfectly between the steering wheel and the dashboard and I started taking pictures. These are totally representative with what I’ve seen all over Texas. Just like the small towns out near Crockett and Lufkin in East Texas; pretty similar to anything over near Midland; outside El Paso; down south towards Galveston.  Decaying Texas.

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What there were plenty of, in the miles and miles of flat straight roads, were oil derricks, and tankers, hundreds upon hundreds of them. It’s not clear to me what Governor Perry means when he talks about the Texas Miracle, but these small towns, and to some degree, smaller cities have more in common with the towns and cities in China and India, slowly being deserted, run down in the rush to the big cities.

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Interestingly, while writing and previewing this entry on wordpress, it suggested the mybigfatwesttexastrip, which ends with the following

The pictures above tell the story of a dying West Texas town and the changing landscape of population movement away from the agrarian society to the city.

The Texas Freedom Illusion

Governor Perry is well known for his brags that “the Lone Star State’s winning mix of low taxes, reasonable regulatory structure, fair court system and world-class workforce has been paying dividends” and bringing business to Texas, even when it isn’t true.

Courtesy the Dallas News
Courtesy the Dallas News

For the day to day Texan, their freedom is becoming increasingly an illusion too.

To have real freedom, you need choice. Increasingly Texans have no freedom, because they have no choice. This week, Attorney General Abbott confirmed the ban of releasing information to the public as Tier II reports in the 1986 Emergancy Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

What this means is, YOU, yes You! can no longer find out what dangerous chemicals are stored by businesses in your town, or your neighborhood. The sort of chemicals for example, that were the cause of the West, TX explosion last year. The Dallas Morning News in their research found 74 facilities that 10,000 Pounds or more of Ammonium nitrate or ammonium nitrate-based explosive material on site.

Given one of the startling discoveries post West, TX. that

“The fertilizer plant hadn’t been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Its owners do not seem to have told the Department of Homeland Security that they were storing large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizer, as regulations require. And the most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5,250 in fines”

wouldn’t you want to know this stuff was happening near your home, school, or work place? WFAA has a great video report showing Texas regulation at it’s best/worst. Confusion.

Gov. Perrys claim for low regulation is in fact obfuscated by the fact that plants like the one in West, TX are regulated by as at least seven different state and federal agencies. OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service. If you think this creates a smooth, efficient, low cost and safe way of managing risk, then “good luck with that”.

The good news is Texas isn’t much worse than many others, at least we still have the ultimate freedom, to leave. Unless of course it’s via the Mexican border where Abbott continues to press for the Federal Government to be tougher, fence more, fence frequently border control. What Texas does a best is apparently marketing the illusion of freedom via the cheerleader in general, Gov. Perry.

Abbott, leads by example

And says FU to Texas water users.

Attorney general Abbott knows the law,  if nothing else. Texas is a property rights state,  along with which come a number of other rights,  not normally recognized as either good for the Commons,  or not allowed by law in a modern democracy.

Those rights include everything under the property,  which would obviously include oil  gas shale,  but in this instance include water. Abbott must like a green lawn, we all do, but for the most part it has become impractical and should be unaffordable to waste water on a lawn.

In what are record drought conditions with numerous businesses affected, boat docks, related people and business, plus the farmers and rice fields downstream from Austin getting more and more severe restrictions, you’d think the candidate for Governor of Texas would lead by example, apparently he is, he’s drilled a well on his property and is watering his lawn from it. This article in the Texas Tribune covers the details.

Abbott Stormy waterThis letter in the current Austin Chronicle, by Philip Russell explains why Abbott is wrong, either way. Doesn’t Texas deserve better than this?

In the interests of transparency, I have a sprinkler system, it was installed when the house was built and generally never gets used. I can’t say I’ve never used it, I have, but not this year. My neighbor replaced half the turf on my lawn to stop the weeds spreading to his lawn, I’ve not watered it since. Also, since our drains run directly into the creek and town lake, I won’t use weed killer or chemicals on the lawn.

[Update: 12/2/13. I guess this is Philip Russell the letters author.]