Satellite view of the Arkema SA chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. Photo: Google Maps

By Charles P. Pierce
30 August 2017

(Esquire) – It is the Christian thing to do in the middle of tragedies like the one currently unfolding along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf coast not to politicize human suffering and, certainly, the stories of people rescuing their fellow citizens from this calamity deserve to be told and they deserve to be spread as widely as possible. But there is nothing I can find in the Gospels that would forbid us from politicizing politics. So let us summon the ghost of Walter Winchell and review some of the events of the past few days.

Item: In Crosby, Texas, there is a place called the Arkema chemical plant where they work with something called organic peroxides. This plant is located amid a residential and business district where, remarkably, human beings live and work. If the cooling systems in the plant fail, as they apparently have, these organic peroxides can explode. A 1.5 mile radius around the plant has been evacuated.

Item: Houston is home to a great number of SuperFund sites—at least a dozen in Harris County alone—because, what the hell, they have to be somewhere, right, and some place has to be the Petrochemical Capital Of America? From the WaPo:

With its massive petroleum and chemical industry, Houston, part of the "Chemical Coast," presents a huge challenge in a major flooding event, said Mathy Stanislaus, who oversaw the federal Superfund program throughout the Obama administration. Typically the EPA tries to identify Superfund sites in a major storm's path to "shore up the active operations" and "minimize seepage from sites," Stanislaus said. "This is not the time to dictate; it's the time to work together well with state and local officials to think about needs that need to be met."

Item: In Baytown, there is a Chevron Phillips petrochemical facility in a place called Cedar Bayou. As you might have guessed from that name, the facility is, at present, fish food. ExxonMobil has similar problems, which it is involuntarily sharing with its fellow Texans and will be for some time. […]

Item: Repeatedly over the past 15 years, the Texas legislature refused to pass any plan to adapt the affected infrastructure as long as that legislation contained any reference to climate change. (The climate crisis, of course, is the thing that makes storms like Harvey the most predictable of all). As the International Business Times reports:

Burnam proposed his climate adaptation plan bill in 2009, 2011 and 2013. (The Texas legislature meets only every other year.) All three bills died in committee, either never coming up for a vote or making it out of one committee but, in a procedural sleight of hand, never being placed on the legislative calendar by the Republican-controlled Calendars committee. The bill would have required most major agencies in Texas to create a plan that included a "climate change vulnerability assessment" and review their programs and plan for how to complete their missions in light of changing climate conditions. That list of agencies includes the state's Department of Housing, Department of Public Safety and Health and Human Services, all of which were caught off-guard by the scale of Harvey's destruction. In 2007, Burnam also proposed a "global warming task force" that would have created a report studying the "global warming challenges and opportunities facing Texas" including "protecting public health from the effects of global warming." That bill never was never voted on in the Energy Resources committee.

The governor of Texas at that time was Rick Perry, who now is the Secretary of Energy, not that he's apparently doing anything there.

And, finally,

Item: Houston has been a flooding calamity waiting to happen for decades. The local and state governments stubbornly have refused to prepare it for a perfectly predictable meteorological catastrophe. Between its wild west zoning practices, its lascivious and unregulated romance with the petrochemical industry, and the fundamental facts of its underlying geology, the fourth-largest city in America essentially has sprawled itself across a dry lake bed, the consequences of which, we are finding out now, include the discovery that political obstinance, like water, inevitably finds its own level. From the L.A. Times:

The storm was unprecedented, but the city has been deceiving itself for decades about its vulnerability to flooding, said Robert Bea, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and UC Berkeley emeritus civil engineering professor who has studied hurricane risks along the Gulf Coast. The city's flood system is supposed to protect the public from a 100-year storm, but Bea calls that "a 100-year lie" because it is based on a rainfall total of 13 inches in 24 hours. "That has happened more than eight times in the last 27 years," Bea said. "It is wrong on two counts. It isn't accurate about the past risk and it doesn't reflect what will happen in the next 100 years." [more]

We're Nowhere Near Prepared for the Ecological Disaster That Harvey Is Becoming

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