Political Animal


May 10, 2013 4:54 PM From Poor Regulation to Terrorism

By Ed Kilgore

You might think the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that leveled the town and killed 14 people would have given pause to those conservative policymakers and boosters in the Lone Star State who proudly boast of a “Texas Way” in which job-creators aren’t hassled by pointy-headed bureaucrats and regulators or income taxes or any of those other new-fangled socialist devices. But no: under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, we learn from a New York Times story today, Texas government and business officials are going out of their way to reiterate that this is a place where the Bidnessman walks tall, and poor living standards and high workplace risks are just the price of keeping job creators fat and happy.

Texas has always prided itself on its free-market posture. It is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.
But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. Compared with Illinois, which has the nation’s second-largest number of high-risk sites, more than 950, but tighter fire and safety rules, Texas had more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs….
“The Wild West approach to protecting public health and safety is what you get when you give companies too much economic freedom and not enough responsibility and accountability,” said Thomas O. McGarity, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and an expert on regulation.

So I’d bet today’s news that Texas law enforcement officials have launched a criminal investigation based on reports that federal agents found bomb-making materials in the possession of a paramedic who was on the scene in West is going to generate a lot of excitement in the state’s conservative circles. True, the suspect who was arrested by the ATF isn’t an Arab or even a Chechen, and no one knows at this point if he had anything to do with the explosion, and if so, what his motives might have been.

But Lord a-mercy, wouldn’t it be nice if it was a terrorist and not an industry or lawmakers or regulators we ought to be looking at in connection with this tragedy? The very possibility must be worth toasting in certain circles during today’s Texas happy hours.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • weirdnoise on May 10, 2013 5:15 PM:

    Anyone with a few plumbing parts and some black powder (not unusual in a gun-loving state like Texas) has "bomb-making materials." I just hope some innocent guy isn't about to be railroaded...

  • Altoid on May 10, 2013 5:15 PM:

    A negligent employer's dream location. The (I believe) common-law rule used to be general across the country that when you agreed to work for someone, you assumed the risk that your employer might be negligent and harm, maim, or kill you. Horrendous industrial accidents on a horrendous scale convinced us a hundred years ago to scrap that idea as unworkable. It's just astounding that Texas never moved into the 20th century on this.

  • Dredd on May 10, 2013 5:50 PM:

    "Lord a-mercy"

    Very good indeed.

    It really is all about the Lord Czars of this and that who are clueless.

    Yet are revered.

  • Gangis Khan on May 10, 2013 5:56 PM:

    Even if the explosion was terrorism-related (still a big 'if'), lack of regulation and enforcement are still partly to blame here. As it turns out, anyone who is storing that much ammonium nitrate in one place needs approval by DHS, precisely because such facilities are targets for terrorism (either to steal the explosives, or blow it up). Needless to say, the plant wasn't following those rules.

    Remember, government is always the problem.

  • c u n d gulag on May 10, 2013 6:09 PM:

    If Texas is so anti-worker protection, and anti-regulation, then why don’t they send out the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans out in shorts and t-shirts, instead of uniforms, pads, and helmets?

    And why do the Astro’s and Rangers wear batting helmets and wear mitts?

    C’mon you pussies!!!

    Let’s see you “Monday Morning Quarterbacking,” when your Quarterbacks and batters have had their brains pulverized into quivering cherry jello!

    Oh yeah, now I remember why – though many of them are minorities, they’re HIGHLY paid minorities!!!

  • Brett on May 10, 2013 6:12 PM:

    Erica Grieder has talked about this. There's this attitude that as long as the parties responsible are paying to fix the problem, then there's no point chasing after them after they screw up - especially if it might jeopardize valuable jobs.

  • JR on May 10, 2013 6:20 PM:

    White/non-Muslim? Will never be called a terrorist... At worst, Cracker Nut Job; at best, Soldier In the War Against Northern Aggression...

  • Jilli on May 10, 2013 6:22 PM:

    To add to your commentary, the lack of regulations doesn't solely impact workers, it impacts residents. If you check the statistics for Harris County, TX for example, you'll find higher than normal incidents of cancer and breathing afflictions. To claim that Texas is some kind of nirvana is an immediate indication that the person is either uniformed or not a TX resident.

  • Rabbler on May 10, 2013 6:22 PM:

    Almost makes you wonder if they planted it.

  • Doug on May 10, 2013 7:37 PM:

    I'll wait for more information before I say any more than wasn't Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, too?

  • John Sully on May 10, 2013 9:03 PM:

    What, the guy had a bag of fertilizer in his garage?

  • exlibra on May 10, 2013 9:23 PM:

    Texas = Bangladesh?

  • David McLemore on May 10, 2013 10:26 PM:

    Er...the first responder guy apparently had a pipe bomb. And there is no immediate connection between his pipe bomb and the explosion at the fertilizer plant.

    Though it's easy why you made that leap, since the media reports have linked the elements by proximity, if not fact.

    Anyone remember Richard Jewell?

  • avahome on May 11, 2013 7:58 AM:

    TX is full of cowboys....they drive on the freeways, they are just everywhere. There is a sense of power and adventure....I know as I lived there for over 20 years.
    But there is also a sense of control...personal responsibility. I call BS on this volunteer fireman.
    Someone is looking for a way out and I suppose it is Gov. Perry and his power boys. I don't even know if they ever found what started the fire at the governors mansion years ago..........hmmmmmm.

  • MuddyLee on May 11, 2013 8:05 AM:

    How many American deaths in Benghazi? How many American deaths in Texas when the fertilizer plant blew up? How much Fox News coverage and "Congress time" does Benghazi get? Compare that to the attention paid to West, Texas. How many republicans does it take to put in an incandescent light bulb?