Two weeks ago, a fire ignited at a fertilizer plant in the small Central Texas town of West, and 20 minutes later, a massive explosion killed 15 people. More than 200 were injured and nearly 150 homes destroyed.
Thursday, Texas lawmakers questioned state agencies that had oversight over the plant, but they didn’t get many answers.
The goal of the hearing was to understand more about how the state regulates fertilizer plants like the one in West. About halfway through, committee chairman Rep. Joseph Pickett, D-El Paso, asked:
“Do we have the authority, does anybody in the state of Texas have the authority, to visit these sites and make sure that whatever regulations they have to abide by, whether it’s federal or state, are being met?”
Nim Kidd, chief of emergency management at the Department of Public Safety, basically said no. That’s not the responsibility of his agency, or any other state agency. But local fire chiefs could conduct their own inspection.
That theme was repeated by agency after agency in the hearing. One agency might look at dust and air pollution, while another might inspect fertilizer labeling. But there isn’t a single agency that looks at safety and coordinating with local first responders.
Lawmakers also got an update on the investigation into the cause of the fire and explosion. The state fire marshal said investigators expect to be done by the end of next week.