Energy & Environment

Tragedies In Texas: Why Senators Say New Chemical Safety Rules Are Needed

Accidents at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals in Texas were at the center of a hearing in Washington.

Accidents at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals in Texas were at the center of a hearing in Washington. Some senators are pressing for quick action to reduce the risk of deadly chemical leaks and explosions. They wanted to know if there’s been any progress since President Obama issued an executive order to improve chemical safety, an order that followed the fertilizer explosion in the city of West.

Senator Barbara BoxerScreen grab of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California during the committee hearing.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said she was disappointed that “little progress” had been made.

“And we know there are problems because they keep happening. And people are dying, and people are going to the hospital,” said Boxer.

Other members of the Senate committee used a recent example of yet another deadly chemical accident.

“We’ve had tragedies like the DuPont Chemical plant in La Porte Texas. And these incidents aren’t limited to Texas, they’re a national problem,” said Senator Al Franken, D-Minnesota.

The deadly accidents at the DuPont plant last month and in West last year were used as examples of why new federally-enforced rules are needed. The rules would compel companies to identify risks and come up with procedures to protect workers and nearby residents.

David Michaels with the Department of Labor testified that in both Texas calamities, people killed were people who’d rushed in to help: in West, volunteer firefighters and in La Porte, fellow workers.

“These workers are heroes. And they deserve that,” Michaels told the committee.

He said workers deserve comprehensive nationwide standards which he promised that regulators would be proposing next year. Industry groups contend new regulations are not needed.

Also released today was an analysis by the Congressional Research Service prepared for Senator Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts. It found that Texas has more facilities with dangerous chemicals than any other state.

The Texas Public Interest Research Group said the report was important to Texas where earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now governor-elect, stirred controversy by ordering information on dangerous chemicals compiled by the Department of State Health Services be kept secret from the public for security reasons.

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Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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