A committee of Texas lawmakers met Tuesday to discuss possible legislation aimed at preventing another disaster like last year’s explosion in West, Texas — with some Republicans still skeptical of imposing regulations on fertilizer storage facilities.
The draft legislation, proposed by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, would create an advisory group charged with recommending rules to the Texas Department of Insurance regarding the safe storage of ammonium nitrate. That common fertilizer caused the blast in West, which killed 15 people and wounded more than 200. The group would also develop penalties for enforcing the new regulations.
That’s a significant change from a previous version of the proposed legislation, which laid out specific regulations for ammonium nitrate storage — including keeping it under fire sprinklers or in noncombustible containers — and authorized legal penalties against facilities that violate the rules. Those proposals drew strong resistance in April from some Republican members of the committee, who worried that new regulations and fines would put too many burdens on small businesses and local fire departments.
The new draft also removes references to the National Fire Protection Association Fire Code. Republicans on the committee had bristled at the idea of holding Texas facilities to those standards.
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The lawmakers who raised those initial concerns were more receptive to the version of the draft discussed Tuesday, but stopped well short of voicing support for it.
State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, worried that the language in the latest draft of the legislation would allow the state to penalize workers who lack the resources to bring their facilities into compliance. According to Tim Herrman, director of the Office of the Texas State Chemist, that wouldn’t be the case; if the regulations required capital expenditures, he said, the owner of a facility would be held responsible.
“I think this bill is a lot better than the one we had last month,” said state Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, who lost his bid for re-election in this year’s Republican primary. But, he added, “I think the things that are happening because of this are going take care of the problem without passing legislation. I just don’t think that we need to pass legislation for everything.”
“I respect that position and I disagree,” Pickett replied. “The problem in my mind is, folks will think this doesn’t go far enough. I’m going to propose some legislation in 2015.”