Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) came under a barrage of criticism this week after he urged the state's residents to just "drive around" and knock on doors if they really wanted to know where hazardous chemicals are stored.
He backtracked just a bit on Wednesday. In an interview with the Associated Press, Abbott conceded that information about locations and quantities of chemical stockpiles in his state "is challenging to get the way that it is currently structured."
Abbott, the frontrunner in the Texas gubernatorial race against state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), recently issued a ruling that blocked public access to inventories of chemical facilities, like the one in the massive fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people and decimated part of West, Texas, last year.
The attorney general argued Tuesday that residents and the media were free to inquire about the location and storage of such chemicals on their own.
"You know where they are if you drive around," he told reporters, according to The Texas Tribune. "You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do and they can tell you, 'Well, we do have chemicals or we don't have chemicals.' And if they do, they tell which ones they have."
For decades, that kind of information was readily available upon request from the Texas Department of State Health Services under the federal Community Right to Know Act -- until the attorney general's ruling last month. Abbott said that the information should be withheld for homeland security reasons, so as to prevent hazardous materials from falling into the wrong hands.
A spokesman for Davis mocked the justification. "The only thing more outrageous than Greg Abbott keeping the location of chemical facilities secret at the behest of the Koch brothers is telling Texas parents they literally need to go door to door in order to find out if their child's school is in the blast radius of dangerous explosives," said Zac Petkanas.
Several local news organizations in Texas took up Abbott's advice, but their inquiries were not welcomed. A local Dallas station reported one such experience:
WFAA was told to ask Dallas Fire-Rescue or the company's attorney. Not only did they not hand over their Tier II report, they said not to record images of their chemical inventory stored on site, which was clearly visible through an open gate.
"We have to call and report to Homeland Security that you are doing something like this," the manager said.
Moments later, a worker closed the gate, blocking the view. Despite the attorney general's declaration, the business was clearly not interested in allowing the public knowledge of what's being stored on site.
In the AP interview, Abbott continued to defend his ruling and suggested that local fire stations now provide the public with information about hazardous chemical locations.
"It's truly a straightforward reading and analysis and application of the [Texas] Homeland Security Act. This is not a law or conclusion that I created," he said.
The Dallas Morning News reported this week that Chase Koch, head of Koch Industries' fertilizer division and son of one of the billionaire Koch brothers, made a $25,000 contribution to Abbott's campaign five months after the West, Texas, explosion. Several political committees, including those for Chevron, Dow Chemical, Lyondell and DuPont, have also contributed thousands to Abbott's political campaigns.