April 25, 2013
On April 17, the town of West, Texas was rocked by a fertilizer plant explosion, killing at least 14, injuring over 100 and causing extensive property damage. Following numerous shootings and a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, the incident compounds a year thus far marked by tragedy. While tragic events tend to foster a nationwide sense of solidarity, they also offer a window to seriously consider their root causes and ramifications. While “politicizing a tragedy” is seen as an utmost taboo, the courage to ask tough questions in the wake of such incidents is necessary in order to derive therefrom any meaningful lessons.
In particular, the West disaster highlights the importance of FEMA in disaster response and brings into question the adequacy of industrial regulations and oversight. Republicans have long advocated state rights on a variety of issues, with the issue of federal disaster relief coming into play in last year’s presidential campaign. Republican nominee Mitt Romney suggested in June that such matters should be handled at the state level and even went so far as to suggest privatization as an ideal. Meanwhile, a considerable contingent of Texans have mounted a tour-de-force to secede from the union entirely.
Even with this sectionalist conservative spirit, Texas has previously and is currently poised to reap the benefits of federal relief dollars. Despite voting against a Hurricane Sandy emergency relief bill in January, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) previously sought federal aid for droughts and wildfires in his state. In the case of West, President Obama has pledged FEMA aid. No one likes “big government” until their state and constituents feel the pain.
Although the cause of the Texas blast is unknown at the time of this writing, it raises serious questions about federal oversight. In spite of right-wing efforts to deregulate across the board, we already have a thinly stretched Occupational Safety and Health Administration that hadn’t inspected the fertilizer plant in question since 1985. Even then, the site was cited for improper storage of anhydrous ammonia. The penalty? A $30 fine. Clearly we have inadequate oversight, failing to adequately keep tabs on hazardous private operations and substantially penalize violators.
If times of tragedy are supposed to bring forth a spirit of unity, why don’t we better implement this philosophy instead of merely talking? To my mind, even the national level is short of ideal. I could form an article-length diatribe against the fallacy of the patriot and the double-standard of weeping for Americans killed by terrorism but not for Pakistani children slaughtered by U.S. drone strikes, but I digress.
For now, can we unite as a nation to help those in need after a disaster and take steps to prevent future incidents, dropping the “I’ve got mine” mentality?
John Sosnowski is a senior majoring in English writing and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org