Who in the world would have guessed that the owners of the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, have a big pile of recent OSHA safety violations and also lobbied — with help from Texas Republican, of course — against more stringent safety rules? You know the plant — it’s the one with a little ol’ problem with its volatile chemicals spontaneously catching fire and exploding after flooding knocked out refrigeration.
A chemical plant in Texas was fined for being unsafe, and lobbied to stay that way? Prithee, pardon us whilst we arise from the floor, whence this feather hath knocked us most cruelly.
Let’s talk OSHA violations first, shall we? In an August 2016 inspection, the Crosby plant was found to have 10 serious violations, such as:
inaccurate piping diagrams, inadequate training, insufficient equipment inspection, insufficient equipment testing and failure to maintain equipment safety systems.
The case was closed in May of this year, and while OSHA initially fined Arkema over $100,000, the company was able to reduce what they paid to $91,724 by complying with OSHA directives to clean up their act, according to The Daily Beast. OSHA wouldn’t speculate as to whether the violations had anything to do with the storage of organic peroxides, the chemicals that caught fire this week. As you’ll recall, several systems failed — first the municipal power went out, then the plant’s backup generators were flooded, and then the small crew of workers who stayed with the plant moved the chemicals into nine diesel-powered refrigerated trailers, which also ended up getting flooded.
Oh, and last year wasn’t the only time the plant had trouble, either:
Arkema and its Crosby facility have racked up over a dozen violations and “informal enforcement actions” over safety and environmental problems over the past five years, according to records from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In other words, a good corporate citizen in Texas, trying its hardest to stay competitive while struggling under the burden of job-killing federal regulations. Heck, they had all those “violations” over five years, but until there was a catastrophic flood, nothing exploded, so obviously they were doing OK, now weren’t they?
Besides, Arkema is very, very concerned about safety, and to prove it, it signed on to the American Chemical Council’s “Responsible Care” program, a voluntary chemical-industry set of safety standards. Wouldn’t you know it, though, shrill outsiders, who don’t think self-policing is a great idea for industries dealing with toxic stuff, have criticized the program, saying it’s mostly a public relations smokescreen — and please don’t test the contents of that smoke:
A 2015 report by the Center for Effective Government focused on Arkema and six other Responsible Care-compliant chemical plants, and found that those plants sometimes led the nation in safety violations, according to a compilation of government inspection records from 2012 to 2014. During that time period, Arkema racked up 78 violations at its various U.S. plants, the report found.
RelevantChemicals At Flooded Texas Plant Definitely Didn’t Explode, Sheriff Says, They Just Popped A Bit
Roberts repeated what the company and local officials have said for days: The remaining trailers are likely to burn, and maybe experience some overpressure on the containers (don’t call it an explosion!) as the fuel runs out in the trailers’ refrigeration units, and it’s too dangerous to try to go in and do anything but let the chemicals combust, possibly
explode vigorously oxidize, and burn themselves out.
So there’s your safety violations! How about that lobbying? David Sirota covered that Thursday in the International Business Times, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a chemical company in the Age of Trump: Arkema and its industry association, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) — home of “Responsible Care” — lobbied hard to get the Trump administration to block the implementation of tougher EPA rules set to go into effect after being formulated by the Obama administration. Not that much persuasion was really needed, since “Obama administration EPA rules” was enough to merit being rolled back, but the chemical industry and its pals in the Texas Republican delegation were more than happy to point out which regulations would be the job-killingest. It’s that sort of public-private cooperation that will make America toxic again.
The EPA said its enhanced safety rules would “seek to improve chemical process safety, assist local emergency authorities in planning for and responding to accidents, and improve public awareness of chemical hazards at regulated source.” But that might have been inconvenient for profitability, so the new rules were put on hold by Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, before they could go into effect back in March.
Sirota outlines some of the lobbying done by Arkema and the ACC:
In May of 2016, Arkema sent a letter to the EPA criticizing the proposed rule. One part of the letter said the rule’s requirement of independent risk management audits “will likely add significant new costs and burdens to the corporate audit process.” The company also took issue with the rule’s “Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis” (STAA) requirements.
Those provisions would have required that companies consider using “inherently safer technology” that would encourage companies to “substitute less hazardous substances” and encourage firms to “simplify covered processes in order to make accidental releases less likely or the impacts of such releases less severe.”
Burdensome! Burdensome! cried the poor chemical company, falling back on some time-honored anti-regulatory shibboleths like “no consensus methodology” and claims that a single regulatory standard would be ever so unfair to companies with lots of individual needs and practices.
The American Chemistry Council also lobbied Congress with similar pleas to protect it from capricious government regulation, which might not really make anything safer but would certainly drive up costs:
“The lack of identifiable and quantifiable benefits stands in stark contrast to the clear costs associated with this rule,” said the letter. “Whether it be the requirement of third-party auditor participation that will reduce the pool of qualified auditors, changing well-established audit procedures already designed to maximize safety effectiveness, or imposing ineffective requirements to consider ‘inherently safer technology/design,’ the final rule includes a litany of costly changes that have not been shown to increase safety.”
Cruel, cruel regulators gonna kill all the jobs and nobody’s proven beyond doubt that stricter standards are really safer standards, so please let us do what we want, OK? So of course, Pruitt said OK and now the chemical industry is doing a great job, except for the occasional freakish flood that could never be predicted, so please stop making a big deal out of this, you tree-huggers.
Sirota’s tale of lobbying embuggerance of environmental and safety protection is well worth reading in full; we would note one minor demurral from Houston Chronicle reporter Matt Dempsey, who’s covered the Texas chemical industry for years. On “Democracy Now!” Friday, Dempsey said Sirota’s piece was excellent, but he also wanted to point out that it’s not exactly “a hard push to convince politicians in the state of Texas to do what the chemical industry in Texas wants them to do.” Point taken.
And so we go into the weekend with a forecast of no more rain in Crosby, with scattered chemical explosions and regulatory rollbacks. Might want to keep an eye out for any Groupon deals on full-face filter masks. It’s worth getting a good one.
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