Yesterday, President Barack Obama attended both the opening of President George W. Bush's presidential library and the memorial service for those who were killed in the horrific explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas.
Was there maybe some sort of common thread there?
These two speaking engagements are not just geographically related. There’s a thread that runs through an amazing, and I think until now, untold story of the Bush administration, and how it went about defeating the kind of regulation that would have strengthened federal oversight for the plant that blew up.
Well, OK then! That's from MSNBC's Chris Hayes, who, true to his show's name, went "All In" to ferret out how the West Fertilizer Company ended up "storing more than 1,300 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by" the Department of Homeland Security. And as it turns out, the very fact that it was the Department of Homeland Security that was charged with regulatory oversight was part of the problem.
As Hayes relates, after the 9/11 attacks, there was enormous concern over how effectively the nation's chemical plants were secured. Working in concert, Bush-era Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge attempted to address the concerns in a responsible manner.
That’s until the son-in-law of former Vice President Dick Cheney walked into the room, a guy by the name Phillip Perry, who was at the time the general counsel of the White House Office of Management and Budget. And he made it clear that the Bush administration was not going to support granting regulatory authority over chemical security to the EPA. According to reports, Perry claimed that their proposal was tantamount to overreach, and that they would need Congress to specifically authorize it.
Whitman and Ridge encountered strenuous opposition from Senate Republicans and the happy-to-oblige-the-chemical-industry Bush administration. From there, we jump ahead in time:
Fast forward a few years, to 2007, and Phil Perry –- again, Dick Cheney’s son-in-law –- is now over at the Department of Homeland Security as the department’s general counsel. And what he manages to do, in an uncontroversial bill, in an appropriations rider, is slip in industry friendly language into the bill that moves the task of regulating chemical plants from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Homeland Security. But DHS is given none of the tools it would need to actually do that.
The kicker in all of this: "And it does appear now that not only did DHS literally have no idea that the West Fertilizer company was storing ammonium nitrate. But according to Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, DHS did not even know the plant existed until it blew up."
Anyone out there feel particularly comfortable with how well-secured chemical plants are from terrorists, by the way?
You can watch Hayes' entire detailed segment below or read about it here. For more on the long struggle to regulate West Fertilizer's plant specifically, read this story from our own Chris Kirkham and Ben Hallman.
READ THE WHOLE THING:
Bush and the West explosion: The untold story of deregulating chemical plants [MSNBC]
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