The Austin Chronicle

Bill of the Week: HB 2470

Lawmakers try to regulate ammonium nitrate storage

By Richard Whittaker, April 24, 2015, News

Author: Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin

Filed: March 5; heard in Environmental Regulation: April 7

Remember the West explosion? When a poorly documented and unsafely stored supply of fertilizer ammonium nitrate exploded on April 17, 2013, the small town of West was virtually leveled: 15 people killed, 160 injured, over 100 homes either damaged or destroyed. That was a disaster almost impossible to calculate for a town of fewer than 3,000 residents, and almost as shocking was the slow revelation of how many similar stockpiles there are around Texas, and how poorly the state has monitored them.

The legislative response, predictably, was also slow in coming. In 2013, the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety held initial hearings, but it was clear that actual legislation would have to wait for the current session. That means measures like HB 2470, by Austin Democrat Eddie Rodriguez, which would tighten the insurance requirements for ammonium nitrate storage facilities. Under the bill, it wouldn't be enough for a company to get a bare-bones insurance policy: They would have to coordinate with state agencies, including the state fire marshal, the Department of State Health Services, and the Office of the Texas State Chemist, to work out whether the insurance is enough to cover the damages that another explosion would cause.

The bill would close a massive loophole, since so many other businesses are required to have liability insurance. This isn't the same as preventing an explosion in the first place, but at least it would ensure that medical bills, property damage, and livestock loss are covered.

Rodriguez isn't the only lawmaker trying to make sure there's never another West. There are two Republican-backed fixes relating to ammonium nitrate storage: HB 942 by Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-Bryan, and SB 528 by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; and El Paso Dem Joe Pick­ett has authored HB 417. All three would basically do the same things: transfer reporting authority from the Department of State Health Services to the Texas Commission on Environmental Qual­ity, strengthen reporting standards, and require owners to allow inspections by state fire marshals and local fire departments, and provide evidence of compliance with state and federal regulations.

The Kacal version made it out of the House Environmental Regu­la­tion Committee on April 14, but after opposition from farming and pharmaceutical groups, thus far there's little traction for Rodriguez's proposal.

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