October 12, 2013 12:57 pm -

The remains of a fertilizer plant burn after an explosion at the plant in the town of West, near WacoOne side effect of the government shutdown is that OSHA is not putting out press releases. So the announcement that the agency had fined the owners of a West, Texas fertilizer plant that exploded on April 17 of this year, killing fifteen and injuring over 200, came by way of a California senator:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is fining the parent company of the West fertilizer plant that exploded $118,300 for 24 workplace violations, including unsafely handling and storing two dangerous chemicals.

West Fertilizer Co.’s stockpile of one of those chemicals, ammonium nitrate, is what fueled the deadly and destructive explosion after a fire broke out after a workday had already ended. State fire authorities have not been able to determine a cause of the fire.

OSHA’s fines and violations were announced Thursday morning by Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate’s environment and public works committee. Boxer, a California Democrat, said OSHA couldn’t publicize the findings itself because of the federal government’s ongoing partial shutdown.

“So I’m stepping in here so as a result of my telling you these things, another explosion could be prevented,” Boxer said.

15 dead, 200-plus injured, and just over a hundred thousand dollars in fines? Cost of doin’ binniss in the free market. But wait — there’s more!

A federal board’s investigation into the fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people in the Texas town of West in April has been suspended due to the government shutdown, Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said on Tuesday.

Thirty-seven of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s 41 employees have been idled after government funds went dry, effectively shutting down the entire agency, board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said.

“Also frozen are investigations at refinery fires and explosions in California, Washington State, Utah and Texas, all of which have important findings for communities, businesses and for the security of our nation’s energy supply,” Moure-Eraso said.

In total, 15 pending chemical accident investigations have come to a halt as a result of the shutdown, CSB Managing Director Daniel Horowitz said in an email to NBC news on Wednesday. There are hundreds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer sites that remain in operation across the U.S., he said, many of them in close vicinity to towns and other populated areas.

“We had a team of 10 working on the West fertilizer explosion and had been planning to conduct a public hearing on Oct. 24 in Texas where new safety recommendations could be considered for ammonium nitrate,” Horowitz said.

Now that’s what I call real free-market deregulation. And no, I’m not being snarky or sarcastic: this is exactly what the zealots in the Ayn Rand wing of the so-called “Tea Party” movement want.

D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.