Archive for May, 2019

If you’re wondering what the Texas Legislature did to help prevent dangerous and persistent fires in the petrochemical corridor near Houston this year, the answer – unfortunately – is not much.

A chemical tank burns at the KMCO plant in Crosby in April

Lawmakers did hold a couple of hearings to take testimony about the fires in early April, but they have failed to take any significant direct action to address underlying causes of the danger. This is despite the fact that frightening, and in one case deadly, evidence of a systemic problem in the Houston area flared up in March and April.

To recap: On March 16, a fire ignited at the ExxonMobil Refinery in Baytown, Texas, concerning the local community. A day later, another fire broke out at the Intercontinental Terminal facility near Deer Park. This blaze raged for days, casting a massive plume of toxic smoke over the region and forcing school children to shelter in place. Traffic in the Houston Ship Channel halted for nearly a week, causing an estimated $1 billion in economic losses.

Less than two weeks later, on April 2, a chemical tank at the KMCO plant in Crosby ignited, once again sending a toxic plume of smoke into the air. This time the fire proved fatal; one KMCO plant worker died and 10 others were injured. One might think three chemical fires in two weeks would prompt urgent bipartisan action by the Texas legislature, but that is not the case.

Bryan Parras of Houston speaks at a Texas Capitol press conference calling on TCEQ to hold polluters responsible

The Legislature did hold two hearings – one on April 4 and another on April 5 – to hear from state and local environmental officials, but not affected members of the public. Because Houston residents were not invited to testify at the April 5 hearing, Public Citizen, Air Alliance Houston and numerous community activists staged a press conference at the Texas Capitol on the same day. The event received significant media attention statewide, ensuring that community voices were heard.

During both hearings, Toby Baker, the executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, admitted that his agency lacks the authority to regulate above-ground petroleum storage tanks. Environmental advocates were already supporting SB 1446, a bill by Senator Nathan Johnson of Dallas, that would grant TCEQ the authority to develop best practices for these tanks. Before these disasters, SB 1446 was dead on arrival. Once it became apparent that TCEQ needed authority over storage tanks, advocates began pushing for a hearing on the bill.

After considerable pressure was applied to the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee and its chairman Senator Charles Perry, the bill finally got a hearing on April 29. Although this hearing did not lead to the bill’s passage out of committee, Chairman Perry stated repeatedly that an interim charge – or special legislative action post-session – is needed on the issue of above ground storage tanks. This commitment would not have happened without our advocacy on the issue.

Read Full Post »

Union members protest the worker lockout

Earlier this, week, I spent time with some very fine folks from the United Steel Workers Local 13-1. Since April 22nd, about 235 workers have been locked out of the Dow Chemical facility in Deer Park, with the company citing failed labor negotiations. The workers have not been receiving pay or benefits since that time.

Stephanie Thomas met with USW 13-1 President Lee Medley

One of the union leaders told me that even though the workers were willing to continue working until negotiations had been reached, the company still locked them out.

The union members are an important part of the workforce and they help ensure safe operations. With all the incidents that have happened over recent months along the ship channel, such as the ITC Disaster, safety needs to be a top concern.

The workers are asking for your support. They are receiving donations to help the impacted families.


Specific items needed are posted on the USW website.

Make donations in person to either union hall:
USW 13-1 North Union Hall (Located Near the DOW Facility)
311 Pasadena Blvd.
Pasadena, TX 77506
Monday-Friday 8 AM – 4 PM
* Please call if making a donation outside of these times: 713-473-3381

USW 13-1 South Union Hall
2327 Texas Avenue
Texas City, TX 77590
Monday-Friday 1 PM-5 PM
* Please call if making a donation outside of these times: 409-945-2355

Because these workers are not receiving pay or benefits, anything that you can offer will go a long way toward supporting them and their families.

Read Full Post »

Note: Today the Texas House of Representative’s Committee on Elections held a public hearing on Senate Bill 9, which would suppress votes in Texas by creating new criminal penalties and requirements for voters and election administrators. In an unusual move, registration for public testimony on the bill was closed by 8:30 a.m. CT. Even though hundreds of people had registered in advance of the hastily imposed deadline, hundreds more did not arrive in time. Certain members of the committee and the public are now calling on Committee Chairman Stephanie Klick to reopen testimony. The Elections Committee hearing will resume when the House finishes its business for the day.

Statement by Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office

Make no mistake: This bill is an attempt to suppress voters, and this attempt to gag witness testimony only proves that. Hundreds of people traveled to Austin from across Texas to voice their opposition to this bill. Now, due to an arbitrary decision by Chairman Klick, the people’s voices will not be heard. If our lawmakers are confident that this bill is about “election integrity” and not voter suppression, then they have nothing to fear from the testimony of hundreds of civic-minded Texans. Klick and the members of the Elections Committee still have an opportunity to reopen testimony and let Texas voters be heard. We must do that now.

Read Full Post »