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Opponents of government regulation indirectly are killing people

explosion-fertilizer-plant-west-texas

In the wake of the recent deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas (above), Thomas O. McGarity offers this INSIGHT on the issue of safety regulations:

The tragic explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant April 17 is the most recent manifestation of a badly debilitated system of regulatory protections.

Although the cause of the blast is still undetermined, what is clear is that the West Fertilizer Company stored large quantities of highly reactive products, including anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, in the middle of a small town with very little oversight from state or federal agencies…The West, Texas, explosion killed 14, and injured nearly 200.

Texas does not have an occupational safety and health program that meets federal requirements. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is therefore responsible for ensuring the safety of potentially dangerous workplaces like the West facility.

OSHA has inspected the West plant exactly once in the company’s 51-year history. That 1985 inspection detected multiple “serious” violations of federal safety requirements for which the company paid a grand total of $30 in fines. OSHA’s 1992 process-safety-management standard for highly hazardous chemicals is supposed to protect against disasters like the West explosion, but it wasn’t in place for that inspection.

(Snip)

[R]egulatory agencies are supposed to be protecting the public from the risks posed by unsafe workplaces, releases of toxic pollutants, and catastrophic explosions. Yet their failure to focus on the risks posed by the West Fertilizer Company is not atypical. We saw similar failures with the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion (15 workers killed, 170 injured), the 2008 explosion at the Dixie Crystal sugar refinery in Georgia (14 workers killed), and the 2008 explosion at a Bayer CropScience chemical plant in West Virginia (two workers killed).

This lack of attention to the safety of our workplaces and neighborhoods is no accident. It is the product of a concerted attack by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, industry trade associations, and conservative think tanks on what they see as onerous regulatory programs – but ones that were enacted by Congress over the years to protect the public from irresponsible corporate misconduct.

These opponents of government regulation learned long ago that the best way to remove the burdens of regulatory programs was to starve the regulatory agencies and bash the bureaucracy, as I spell out in my recent book, “Freedom to Harm.” Until one delves into the facts or the next accident occurs, the agencies have only the appearance of protecting the public.

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