While You Were Sleeping

Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff / Houston Chronicle

You know the old saying: ‘If you snooze you lose.’ That applies nowhere more than the United States Congress.

Recall the catastrophic fertilizer explosion in West, Texas that killed 15, injured 200, and destroyed a sizable chunk of the town? In the aftermath, it was discovered that Texas had few, if any, safety rules and regulations regarding the storage of explosive agricultural chemicals. A Dallas Morning News investigation in 2013 found 70 sites like the facility in West.

Despite the catastrophe and the obvious need to do something, Texas did nothing. On the other hand, President Obama ordered an overhaul of chemical safety rules and OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) did issue “guidance” intended to extend OSHA regulations and inspections to more facilities. The fertilizer industry challenged the guidelines in court, and won. However, the industry was not satisfied with its legal victory.

Enter the lobbyists.

Tucked away in the bowels of the enormous Farm Bill being considered by Congress is a provision that would permanently deprive OSHA of the right to regulate and conduct inspections of facilities like West.

The West facility had not been inspected by OSHA in ten years. There are, of course, reasons, justifications and rationalizations for that failure such as budget constraints, a shortage of personnel, etc., but this Farm Bill would deprive OSHA of even the right to conduct an inspection.

Jordan Barab, a former OSHA deputy assistant secretary, said: “If this is successful, it would be the first case of an industry saying, ‘We understand this is important, but we want to be exempted.’ This really is a precedent you don’t want to set.”

Lobbyists never sleep.

For more, see the Houston Chronicle article by Bill Lambrecht and Matt Dempsey of 9/27/18.


Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool, Staff / Houston Chronicle