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"Over the past two days, the Arkema people have given us a master class in Not Giving A Damn," Pierce writes.

"Over the past two days, the Arkema people have given us a master class in Not Giving A Damn," Pierce writes. (Photo: ribarnica/Flickr/cc) 

The Chemical Plant Explosion in Texas Is Not an Accident. It's the Result of Specific Choices.

The perils of deregulation.

Charles P. Pierce

 by Esquire

So, conservative ideas have triumphed in Texas. A business-friendly environment has been created, based on free-market principles, deregulation, and a return to 10th amendment freedoms just as the Founders designed them, because the best government is the one that is closest to the people.

Basic chemistry doesn't care, via NBC News:

A flooded chemical plant near Houston exploded twice early Thursday, sending a plume of smoke into the air and triggering a fire that the firm plans to let "burn itself out." Arkema Group, which is one of the world's largest chemical companies, had warned Wednesday that the plant would catch fire and explode at some point — adding there was nothing that could be done about it.

Awfully blithe for a company whose massive chemical plant just exploded because the company was unprepared for a completely predictable meteorological catastrophe, I'd say. Of course, over the past two days, the Arkema people have given us a master class in Not Giving A Damn. Anyone who saw the essential Matt Dempsey of the Houston Chronicle on the electric teevee machine with Kindly Doc Maddow on Wednesday night knows exactly what I'm talking about. (And, if you're not following him on the electric Twitter machine—@mizzousundevil—you should be.) They played a tape of a conference call on which Dempsey pressed the CEO of Arkema, Rich Rowe, about what substances were in the company's plant that would be released if the plant blew, as it apparently did Thursday morning. Rowe refused to answer, which was his perfect right within Texas' business-friendly environment. They could be hoarding nerve gas in that place, and be perfectly within the law not to tell anybody about it.

"Over the past two days, the Arkema people have given us a master class in Not Giving A Damn."

In fact, and this is the delectable part of the entire farce, there apparently is a law in Texas that specifically forbids many cities and towns from designing their own fire codes. Hell, the state even passed a law forbidding cities and towns from requiring fire sprinklers in new construction. Freedom!

Two years ago, Dempsey and his team put together a staggering eight-part series about the lack of rudimentary safety precautions that exists in what has become the petrochemical capital of the country. The series took a chunk out of both the recklessness of the Texas state government and out of the spavined state of the EPA and OSHA even under President Obama, the latter problems having gotten worse under the current administration. You should read the whole thing, but Part Six of the series is particularly relevant. It describes how the city government of Houston, and its responsible officials, are flying completely blind as to what is being manufactured and stored in the hundreds of plants in and around the city. From the Chronicle:

A black plume big enough to show up on weather radar touched the sky that Thursday morning in May. Explosions echoed through Spring Branch. Students fled a nearby school. A substance like tar coated cars in the neighborhood. Blood-red fluids spilled into a creek, choking fish and turtles. More than 400 firefighters responded over two days, and when they were done, piles of torched barrels and melted plastic tanks lay in a snow-white blanket of fire-fighting foam. Days later, they still didn't know what they'd been fighting. No city inspector had been inside the place for years, and the owner's records burned up in the blaze. The firefighters didn't even know there was a chemical facility in the neighborhood, one surrounded by houses and apartments, a nursing home and a gun shop full of ammunition…The fire department in the nation's fourth-largest city has no idea where most hazardous chemicals are, forgetting lessons learned in a near-disaster 21 years ago, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

This is no accident. This is a political philosophy put into action, and a triumphant one at that.

Basic chemistry doesn't give a damn.


© 2021 Esquire
Charles P. Pierce

Charles P. Pierce

Charles P. Pierce is a writer-at-large for Esquire and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the LA Times Magazine, the Nation, the Atlantic, Sports Illustrated and The Chicago Tribune, among others.

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