More inspections wouldn't have prevented explosion, Perry says

Posted Monday, Apr. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that spending more state money on inspections would not have prevented the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant, which was last investigated by Texas environmental regulators in 2006.

Perry told The Associated Press that he remains comfortable with the state's level of oversight after last week's huge explosion in West, which killed 14 people, injured at least 200, destroyed an apartment complex and about 50 houses, and damaged a nursing home and a school.

Federal and state investigators say they have yet to identify the cause of the explosion.

Perry suggested that the majority of Texas residents agree with him.

"Through their elected officials [people] clearly send the message of their comfort with the amount of oversight," he said. Monday.

Perry was in Illinois on a trip intended to lure companies to move to Texas. Among his selling points: Texas' low regulatory climate, which he says unburdens businesses and allows companies to create more jobs and wealth.

Also Monday, Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said he did not believe that more environmental regulations would have prevented the blast.

Shaw told the AP that he believes the final investigation will show that anhydrous ammonia, which his agency regulates and the plant stored, was not responsible for the explosion.

Shaw's agency last inspected the fertilizer plant in 2006 after receiving a complaint about odor. Agency leaders have said they have not received any other complaints.

Yet over the years, the fertilizer company was fined and cited for violations by federal and state agencies. Last summer, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration assessed a $10,000 fine against West Fertilizer for improperly labeling storage tanks and preparing to transfer chemicals without a security plan. The company paid $5,250 after reporting that it had corrected the problems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also cited the plant for not having an up-to-date risk management plan. That problem was also resolved, and the company submitted a new plan in 2011.

Perry said Monday that "we follow regulations of the EPA."

Environmental groups are targeting several bills in the Republican-controlled Legislature that they say would further relax state oversight. One proposal would restrict the public's ability to research a company's environmental compliance history.

Another would eliminate the ability of some groups to contest permits issued by state regulators. On Monday, a Senate committee cleared the proposal for a full chamber vote.

"If there are questions that we are still trying to answer now about what happened in West, it would seem like this would be the wrong time to be weakening environmental regulations," said David Weinberg, executive director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters.

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