By Paul J. Weber
and Sophia Tareen
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 that 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 following last week’s massive blast in the rural farming town of West that killed 14 people and injured 200. 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.
“(People) through their elected officials clearly send the message of their comfort with the amount of oversight,” Perry said Monday.
Perry was in Illinois on Monday on a trip intended to lure companies to relocate to Texas. Among his selling points: Texas’ low regulatory climate that Perry says unburdens businesses and allows companies to create more jobs and wealth.
Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said Monday he did not believe that more environmental regulations would have prevented the blast.
Shaw told 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 investigators have not returned because 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 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. Those proposals include one that would restrict the public’s ability to research a company’s environmental compliance history.
Another would significantly undermine the ability of groups to contest permits issued by state environmental regulators. A Senate committee cleared the proposal for a full chamber vote last week, but the results of the vote were posted Monday.
“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 and the ability of cities and communities to take part in the process,” said David Weinberg, executive director for the Texas League of Conservation Voters.