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The Brief: Nov. 17, 2014

As authorities arrive in LaPorte to find what caused the methyl mercaptan gas leak that killed four DuPont plant workers on Saturday, information is emerging about the safety record of the plant.

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The Big Conversation

As authorities arrive in LaPorte to find what caused the methyl mercaptan gas leak that killed four DuPont plant workers on Saturday, information is emerging about the safety record of the plant.

"State records show that in the last five years, the plant has been cited at least two dozen times by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for violating state law," wrote the Tribune's Neena Satija. "It has failed to perform routine safety inspections, keep equipment in proper working order and prevent unauthorized pollution leaks, according to violation notices issued by the agency. In a few instances, the agency demanded fines of a few thousand dollars from DuPont for more serious lapses."

The Houston Chronicle reported that releases of the gas in the area are not uncommon. A representative from the Harris County attorney's office told the paper he remembered three incidents in the last decade. Indeed, he said that the "county's own pollution control department had to evacuate its Pasadena headquarters after a methyl mercaptan release last year."

Meanwhile, a federal Chemical Safety Board team is on site to begin its investigation into the leak.

"Ultimately, of course, we want to learn why this happened in detail so that it can be prevented in the future. In as much as four people tragically died in this, there was obviously some sort of breakdown, so we'll have to figure out what that was," Daniel Horowitz, the Chemical Safety Board's managing director, told the Chronicle.

The Day Ahead

•    The Senate Education Committee meets at 10 a.m. in the Capitol Extension to discuss school choice-related interim charges. Also, the panel will look at factors affecting school facilities funding. (agenda)

Trib Must-Reads

Counting Heads in the Eagle Ford Shale is No Easy Task, by Becca Aaronson and Todd Wiseman

Despite State Order, Charter Schools Stay Open, by Morgan Smith

Texas Beef Council Turns Focus to Younger Eaters, by Terri Langford

Analysis: As Lineup Changes, So Will Balance of Power, by Ross Ramsey

Elsewhere

‘Broken’ state agency near $90 million deal on Medicaid fraud detection, Austin American-Statesman

Perry promoted aide with three alcohol offenses on record, The Dallas Morning News

Distracted-driving tragedy strikes twice for Texas family, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Ex-candidate for governor Chris Bell ordered to pay GOP group $300,000, Austin American-Statesman

In Congress, Hurd will be the spy who came in from the shadows, Houston Chronicle

New Senators Tilt G.O.P. Back Toward Insiders, The New York Times

Death by Deadline, The Marshall Project

Quote to Note

"We’re delighted that he has been appointed secretary of state because it gets him out of Cameron County as county judge. We’re happy to get rid of him."

— Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, "congratulating" Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos on his pending appointment to be secretary of state under Gov. Greg Abbott. The men have a history. Cascos won office by beating Hinojosa.

Today in TribTalk

Health regulation makes for strange bedfellows, by James C. Ho

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Special TribLive Happy Hour Panel Discussion Assessing Rick Perry’s Legacy, on Nov. 18 on the patio at El Arroyo

•    A Conversation With Reps. Myra Crownover, Tan Parker and Ron Simmons on Dec. 1 at Texas Woman's University in Denton

•    A Conversation With Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Dec. 4 at The Austin Club

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