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Lawmaker Plans 2015 Bill To Address Safety Concerns At Chemical Facilities

Ryan Poppe | Texas Public Radio
TPR News

After a year of investigating the lead up to the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas, one state lawmaker announced his intention to author a bill to make such chemical facilities safer.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, chairman of the Texas House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, made the announcement during a committee hearing Tuesday.

“The key points would be changing the way we store ammonium nitrate, the training [and] the inspection," Pickett said. "It was really eye-opening to me to find out that over 70% of the firefighters in Texas are voluntary firefighters that don’t have the authority to inspect.”

Pickett said he plans to find a way the state can pay for training that would certify them to inspect ammonium nitrate plants for risk and breaches of the state’s fire code. But others on the committee still see the draft legislation as an unfunded mandate.

REP. DAN FLYNN, R-CANTON: “A lot of people are very concerned about overregulation."

PICKETT:  "Overregulation or no regulation -- if that’s the choice I’ll take my chances. But this is too important of an issue, too many lives have been lost because of, probably, poor management on us.”

Pickett's bill would require that all fertilizer plants store their ammonium nitrate in storage bins made of material not known to start fires and that it be kept 30 ft. from any other building.

“If we do nothing we will have another West disaster -- if we do nothing," Pickett said. "I think it’s important that there’s a follow up and I am sensitive to all of what has been debated behind the scenes and in front of the scenes. We don’t want more regulation; I’m trying to do something that is minimal.” 

It was also announced that the state website that will provide the public the locations of these chemical facilities would not list specific addresses of the plants, but rather a general area of the state due to a potential risk for terrorism.

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.