Davis Presses Attack on Abbott Over Chemical Plant Ruling

State Sen. Wendy Davis, the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor, addressing supporters on July 13, 2014, in East Austin.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor, addressing supporters on July 13, 2014, in East Austin.

Wrapping up her five-day “Texans Deserve to Know” tour, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis went on the offensive Saturday, telling supporters in Austin that her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, was an “insider working for other insiders.”

Davis’ remarks focused on contributions to Abbott’s campaign from a Koch Industries official and the attorney general’s controversial ruling in May that limited the disclosure of information that reveals where chemical plants are storing hazardous materials.

The information, available in “Tier II” reports, had been available for years under the federal Community Right to Know law, but Abbott’s office ruled that a 2003 state homeland security law prevented public dissemination of the reports on the grounds that terrorists could use the information in them to make a bomb.

In her remarks, Davis recalled two deadly explosions of from Texas history: one at a fertilizer plant last year in West that killed 15 people, and the 1947 Texas City disaster that killed more than 500 people. Both cases involved ammonium nitrate.

“These are dangerous chemicals, and we know they have a history of exploding,” Davis said. “There is no logical or reasonable or acceptable excuse for hiding this information from families across this state.”

 

Abbott campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch criticized Davis’ tour, saying she was misleading Texans about Abbott’s ruling.

“Greg Abbott did not change any law or policy, he applied the Texas Homeland Security Act, which prevents state agencies from releasing information that could be used by terrorists to build bombs or to target certain facilities,” he said. “While on her tour, Sen. Davis should shed some light on other issues Texans deserve to know about, like the whereabouts of her legislative record on this issue and why she hasn’t condemned Sen. [Leticia] Van De Putte and her fellow Democrats for voting in favor of this law – not to mention why won’t she disclose her tax returns and her client list,” he said.

Davis continued her attack on Abbott as an “Austin insider,” pointing out that he has received a $25,000 campaign contribution from the head of Koch Industries’ fertilizer division.

Koch Industries has denied any connection between its contributions to Abbott’s campaigns and his decisions as attorney general.

Abbott told reporters last week that Texans could just “drive around” their neighborhoods to locate chemical facilities themselves. Then, using a state law providing direct access to the reports, he said they could ask the plants for the Tier II reports.

After several reporters tested the theory and were shown the door at various chemical facilities, Abbott acknowledged that citizens did not have easy access to the information and has since proposed a new law that would require fire departments to make the data available during normal business hours.

Although his campaign had earlier suggested that local fire departments already could give out that information, Abbott told The Texas Tribune in an interview Thursday that they were not allowed to disseminate the information.

“Right now they can’t,” he said. “That’s why my proposal is to make this information more conveniently accessible, is to allow people to seek and obtain the information from the fire marshals who already have this information.”

 

Abbott was asked what might prevent a terrorist from gaining access to the information through the fire marshals or the departments they work for. He said it would be up to those local officials to determine whether the people asking for it were up to no good.

“If this information can be obtained from a fire marshal, it can be done in a way where they’re going to know who it is seeking the information and they can make assessments about whether or not the people acquiring the information can pose any type of terroristic threat.” 

Davis told reporters Saturday that Abbott’s proposal was “absurd.”

“He’s trying to have it both ways,” she said. “He’s trying to say that this information should not be disclosed to the public because of terrorist fears, and then on the other hand he wants to tell the public, 'Look, here’s how you can find the information.' It makes no sense.”

Earlier Saturday, Abbott spoke to the American Legion in McAllen, where he unveiled a set of policy proposals intended to promote entrepreneurship among Texas veterans.