Texas: "We believe in freedom. Where you can build anything, anywhere, and do whatever you want." As long as you're a corporation or business.
If "business friendly" means lives at risk, then Houston, we have a problem.
Even in West, last month’s devastating blast did little to shake local skepticism of government regulations. Tommy Muska, the mayor, echoed Governor Perry in the view that tougher zoning or fire safety rules would not have saved his town. “Monday morning quarterbacking,” he said.http://www.nytimes.com/...
Raymond J. Snokhous, a retired lawyer in West who lost two cousins — brothers who were volunteer firefighters — in the explosion, said, “There has been nobody saying anything about more regulations.”
Texas has always prided itself on its free-market posture. It is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.
But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. Compared with Illinois, which has the nation’s second-largest number of high-risk sites, more than 950, but tighter fire and safety rules, Texas had more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs.
. . . .
“The Wild West approach to protecting public health and safety is what you get when you give companies too much economic freedom and not enough responsibility and accountability,” said Thomas O. McGarity, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and an expert on regulation.
Since the accident, some state lawmakers began calling for increased workplace safety inspections to be paid for by businesses. Fire officials are pressing for stricter zoning rules to keep residences farther away from dangerous industrial sites. But those efforts face strong resistance.
. . . .
But federal officials and fire safety experts contend that fire codes and other requirements would probably have made a difference. A fire code would have required frequent inspections by fire marshals who might have prohibited the plant’s owner from storing the fertilizer just hundreds of feet from a school, a hospital, a railroad and other public buildings, they say. A fire code also would probably have mandated sprinklers and forbidden the storage of ammonium nitrate near combustible materials. (Investigators say the fertilizer was stored in a largely wooden building near piles of seed, one possible factor in the fire.)
“It’s tough to overstate the importance fire codes would have made,” said Scott Harris, a former emergency management coordinator in Texas for the Environmental Protection Agency, who is now with UL Workplace Health and Safety, a safety science company. “Texas just hasn’t wrapped its brain around this fact yet.”
. . . .
“Businesses can come down here and do pretty much what they want to,” Mr. Burka said. “That is the Texas way.”