Thursday’s announcement that the Environmental Protection Agency was snuffing an Obama era regulation crafted to prevent occurrences such as the deadly 2013 fertilizer plant explosion that blew a quarter of West, Texas, off the map is yet another example of the Trump administration adding insult to injury, cheapening the lives of 12 first responders who perished in the ammonium nitrate blast. In justifying the decision while very obviously bowing to the deep-pocketed chemical industry lobbyists in whose ranks he once toiled, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the EPA is taking this action partially in deference to first responders.
Talk about fake news. Whether the vocal state fire marshal or the mayor of West (also a volunteer firefighter at the time of the explosion), many rank-and-file first responders have actually pressed for more information and more coordination involving businesses with volatile chemical stockpiles, something the Obama rule sought to address before its initial suspension. No less than Mayor Tommy Muska has stressed how he and fellow firefighters on April 17, 2013, had no idea what they were up against in trying to quell a plant fire that exploded, ripping apart homes and infrastructure as well as cherished friends and neighbors.
The message is abundantly clear: The Trump administration may be “pro-life” when it comes to unborn children and it may welcome with holy fanfare a Florida televangelist as a White House aide, but otherwise human life is cheap on this watch, whether it’s Kurdish or Ukrainian allies who fought alongside us in combat in far-off lands or volunteer first responders who come running when a fire breaks out in places such as the conservative Central Texas town of West, population 2,800.
Judging from EPA documents, the Trump administration’s reasons for scrapping the Obama rule is based on a couple of things: First, requiring more public insight into what chemicals are stored in chemical plants such as the former West Fertilizer Company would theoretically leave them terrorist targets — as if well-funded terrorists couldn’t learn this through other means. Second, the West explosion has been ruled arson by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a conclusion shared by neither other investigators of the blast nor the West officials and leading citizenry with whom we have spoken.
Then again, one wonders if this is just another example of a president scuttling anything his predecessor pressed, good or bad. None of which sits well with Muska, judging from comments to a Trib editorial board member Saturday afternoon:
“I guess what I’m upset about more than anything is that, if like me these people had gone to 12 funerals in eight days, then they might have asked themselves, ‘Did we do enough?’ Look at that memorial [to the blast victims], look at those names, look at those people who died. If after all that they can say they did enough, well, I want to hear that. If they have a quarter of their town blown up, destroyed, I want to hear them say they did enough. But that happened to me, it didn’t happen to them. So it’s a tough pill to swallow.”