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TX Lawmakers Hear Fertilizer Explosion Bill

PHOTO: The 2013 explosion in West, Texas, killed 15 and caused as much as $230 million in damages, a number dwarfed by the West Fertilizer Co.'s $1 million insurance policy. A bill in the Texas Legislature proposes using private market forces to ensure safe storage of ammonium nitrate. Photo credit: Shane.Torgerson/Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: The 2013 explosion in West, Texas, killed 15 and caused as much as $230 million in damages, a number dwarfed by the West Fertilizer Co.'s $1 million insurance policy. A bill in the Texas Legislature proposes using private market forces to ensure safe storage of ammonium nitrate. Photo credit: Shane.Torgerson/Wikimedia Commons.
April 8, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas - The U.S. Chemical Safety Board called the 2013 fire and explosion of ammonium nitrate at West Fertilizer Co. the "worst chemical accident in its history." The blast killed 15 people, and caused more than $100 million in property damages. But the fertilizer plant only carried $1 million in liability insurance.

A new bill before state lawmakers could help prevent future explosions.

"The tragedy in West, Texas, coming up on two years ago, caused between $100 million and $200 million in property damage, depending on the estimates," said Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch. "You could hear the blast 80 miles away; 15 Texans lost their lives that day. It was a devastating and catastrophic event."

Winslow said the goal of the legislation, House Bill 2470, is to harness private market forces to ensure that ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizer, is stored responsibly. Businesses would have to carry enough insurance to protect life and property in the surrounding area, and could get lower premiums if they demonstrate sufficient risk-mitigation practices.

The explosive compound that shook West was used by the U.S. Army in World War II, Winslow said, and also was a key component in the bomb made by domestic terrorists in Oklahoma City.

"We don't want another West, Texas, disaster to happen again," he said. "And by passing this bill, the Legislature is taking steps to reduce risk to the public while maintaining the availability of this product."

Fertilizer is big business in Texas. At least 74 facilities store at least 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate-based explosive material. Winslow said approximately 20,000 people live within a half-mile of these sites.

The bill was heard Tuesday by the House Environmental Regulation Committee, but did not come to a vote.

The text of HB 2470 is online at capitol.state.tx.us.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - TX