Two times in two weeks, dangerous chemical fires have raged in Harris Countykilling one man, badly injuring others and lifting a toxic chemical cloud over the Houston region. School kids have been forced to “shelter in place” with air conditioning shut down. Citizens have been told to remain inside their houses to avoid danger to their health.
New County Officials Act Quickly to Keep Citizens Safe
Local Harris County officials – led by newly elected County Judge Lina Hidalgo and her fellow Democrats on the Commissioners Court, Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia – moved quickly to mobilize county resources to limit the damage and keep citizens safe. Their actions are particularly impressive given that during the previous two decades of Republican control, the county failed to adopt a chemical emergency plan of any type.
Paxton’s Legal Moves Help Chemical Companies NOT Texans in Harm’s Way
As the fires raged in Houston, it became clear that AG Ken Paxton was most concerned about protecting the chemical companies whose negligence led to roaring fires and chemical clouds.
County-level legal action would push for companies to fully disclose the danger of their facilities and make the structural and operational changes needed to keep surrounding communities safe. However, rather than work constructively through local county officials to hold polluters accountable, Paxton quickly filed suit himself, locking up legal jurisdiction and blocking county leaders from taking more aggressive actions.
Paxton can now act as a “friendly plaintiff” who is only technically in opposition to the companies. He can agree to a settlement with a relatively small fine and little or no safety reforms. Also, expect Paxton to waive any punitive damages, which is one of the few ways to apply enough economic pressure to force companies to make major changes in their facilities and operations.
Paxton Following the Texas GOP Pro-polluter Pattern
Most coverage of Ken Paxton has focused on his extreme Trump Party Republican ideology and the fact that he’s the only statewide elected official in the nation serving while under felony criminal indictment. However, there’s certainly nothing surprising about Paxton stepping in to shield chemical companies. He’s simply following the polluter protection plan established by his predecessor Greg Abbott.
- Polluters over People: Since being sworn in as Texas AG in 2015, Paxton has filed multiple law suits AGAINST the Environment Protection Agency, taking the side of polluters over families and communities. Abbott and Paxton together have weighed in for special interests against the federal government over 50 times, in many cases to kill or weaken environment protection laws.
- Abbott Helps Companies Hide Dangerous Chemicals: In 2014, in the aftermath of the deadly chemical explosion in West, Texas, Abbott waived the requirement of companies to disclose the storage of dangerous chemical in their facilities. When asked how citizens can find out whether their homes are in danger, Abbott said, they can “drive around” to companies and ask.
- Abbott backed off British Petroleum: In 2010, the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico contaminated coastal areas in Texas and five other states. Other states acted quickly and aggressively to recover both actual and punitive damages to repair their states and protect their citizens. Texas AG Greg Abbott was passive and deferential. Abbott settled for a small payout and waived all punitive claims against British Petroleum (BP). Just a few years earlier, Abbott took the same approach to BP after the deadly Texas City explosion.