T-SIG EDITORIAL: Texas GOP aided and abetted chemical fires in Houston region

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Photo: Harris County Fire Marshall

Republican leadership in Texas is now scurrying to cover its tracks.

A second chemical explosion rocked the Houston region Tuesday, killing one person and seriously wounded two others. The chemical company, KMCO, has a history of egregious environmental and safety violations.

The incident followed another fire last month at a fuel storage facility in Deer Park, Tex. Schools in the area closed. Shelter-in-place orders were given. Concerns were raised about chemicals released into the air and water. Don’t-eat-the-fish warnings blanketed the news. The company responsible, Intercontinental Terminals Company, also has a history of environmental violations.

Since both incidents, the State of Texas has swiftly filed legal action against both companies for violating the Texas Clean Air Act.

But that was when everyone was watching. 

When people weren’t looking, repeat violators of air and water laws have received a slap on the wrist by state officials.

The companies themselves are to blame. The explosions and subsequent fires occurred on their watch.

But state officials, when they had the knowledge and chance to stop KMCO’s flaunting of laws, largely seemed to look the other way. The state (TCEQ) fined KMCO $140,000 for 11 violations. That’s a drop in the bucket.

Bad actor companies will keep engaging in bad behavior if they think they can get away with it – while making more money in the process.

The irony is Republicans are always squawking about enforcing laws on the book instead of making new ones. But they don’t even properly enforce the environmental laws on the books.

“The data show that polluters routinely violate the law, but TCEQ too often lets them off the hook,” Environment Texas has said. State officials “could issue fines as high as $2.3 billion for 2017 violations” but “levied a total of $1.2 million in fines in 2017 or 2 cents per pound of pollution.”

Even if – hopefully when –ITC and KMCO are found guilty of environmental and perhaps other crimes, the financial repercussions at the state level are limited.

In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law making it difficult for local governments to sue companies that pollute by capping payouts at $2 million. That helps the polluters.

It should surprise no one, then, that Republican-led Texas isn’t too keen on environmental regulation and enforcement, even toward repeat offenders. State leaders have consistently sided with companies over residents, and as a result, we see corner-cutting which can lead to deadly accidents.

Given the torrent of negative publicity and lawsuits, ITC and KMCO may finally get their comeuppance. When will our Republican leadership?

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