Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the GOP nominee for governor, recently issued a ruling on information regarding the storage of hazardous chemicals in the state. The ruling has generated a little controversy, mostly because it has been spun out of shape.
The actual ruling is that government entities can withhold state records on where dangerous chemicals are stored around the state. The ruling does not prevent citizens from calling facilities and asking them what is stored around their communities. Under state law citizens have the right to find that out on their own. Abbott’s ruling does say that the state doesn’t have to proactively publish where such chemicals are stored. That’s not the same thing as “hiding” information, an accusation that a certain Democrat is now hurling.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor against Abbott, fired off a couple of testy tweets about the issue on Tuesday and again today.
.@GregAbbott_TX is blocking communities, schools, and hospitals from knowing about hazardous chemicals stored nearby: http://t.co/sfdR96eM2N
— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) July 1, 2014
.@GregAbbott_TX doesn't want us to know about hazardous chemicals in our neighborhoods. Why? Ask the Koch brothers: http://t.co/wSEP8HXt2e
— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) July 2, 2014
The Koch brothers? Really?
Ever since Davis imported staff from Harry Reid’s shop in Nevada, her campaign has had one setting: Attack! That’s what they’re doing here. The Koch brothers bone is a nice touch, though I’d bet that most Texans don’t know who they are, nor do they care, nor do they have any reason to. Texas Democrats can talk credibly about getting big money out of politics as soon as they stop taking money from Steve Mostyn, the Fred Barron estate, and George Soros’ various entities. Davis herself could stop using her government access to create sweetheart deals for herself too.
As is usually the case, Davis’ team attacks without thinking or doing the barest research at all. The storage of hazardous chemicals is a very serious issue, requiring careful thought to balance out the needs of the public to know versus the dangers posed by disclosing too much to those who wish us harm. There are actually good arguments to be had on both sides of it. Davis’ campaign elected to draw a big cartoon Koch brother and fling finger paints at it.
As a sitting senator in the Texas Senate, Davis ought to be familiar with legislation that dealt with this very issue. It came up in the 2003 session, H.B. 9. That was five years before Davis was elected to the state Senate, but Sen. Davis’ running mate, Sen. Leticia Van De Putte — and every other Democrat in the state Senate at the time — voted for that bill. It says:
Sec. 418.178. CONFIDENTIALITY OF CERTAIN INFORMATION RELATING TO CONSTRUCTION OR ASSEMBLY OF WEAPONS. (a) In this section, ‘explosive weapon’ has the meaning assigned by Section 46.01, Penal Code. (b) Information is confidential if it is information collected, assembled, or maintained by or for a governmental entity and: (1) is more than likely to assist in the construction or assembly of an explosive weapon or a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon of mass destruction; or (2) indicates the specific location of: (A) a chemical, biological agent, toxin, or radioactive material that is more than likely to be used in the construction or assembly of such a weapon; or (B) unpublished information relating to a potential vaccine or to a device that detects biological agents or toxins.
What does that have to do with the storage of dangerous chemicals and terrorists? Everything. The reason that Abbott ruled that the state does not publish this information proactively is that it could become a map for terrorists, to either attack or to steal and then use those stolen chemicals in attacks.
We’re talking about the kinds of chemicals that were used in the Oklahoma City bombing.
We’re talking about the kinds of chemicals that were used, along with instructions downloaded from the Internet, in the 2011 Norway terrorist attack.
We’re talking about very dangerous stuff. Should we put it all on a scavenger hunt map, Sen. Davis?
Terrorism is not an idle threat here or anywhere else in the United States. Two accused Islamic terrorists were arrested in the Austin area just last week. One of them reportedly wanted to get training with ISIS in the Middle East and then return here to conduct attacks against Americans. In addition to those two, we have a dangerously porous border with Mexico right now. If children and smugglers can slip across, and they are by the thousands right now, then so can terrorists. Davis says that she sees that as a crisis that demands action. But she hasn’t made the security connection yet, evidently.
Rep. Joe Pickett, head of the Texas House Homeland Security Committee, and a Democrat, has this to say about the issue: “Another issue that has come up is not in this legislation per se, but going to try. I’m going to make a feeble attempt probably, but try to explain a little bit of the community’s right to know and open record request, and the public, especially the media. The media has contacted myself, they’ve contacted (inaudidble), they’ve contacted the Attorney General’s office. They want information, they want it now, we know how that is. I started off by thanking them, and I still do for the coverage that they have given this issue. I do have a personal problem with wholesale giving out addresses to locations where there is a potential terrorist threat. And in the same breath, they said, ‘Well didn’t you ask TDI, Texas Department Insurance to put it in a website?’ I did and that website is up and copied this from DPS on their sex offenders. If you put in a zip code anywhere in the state of Texas it will say yes or no whether there’s ammonium nitrate in that zip code and then it will give you the information for the first responder. I think that’s sufficient to protect the public. If the public under federal statute believes that the community right to know is more than that they still have the ability, they being that individual. Mr. Lavender, you know of a facility, you can contact that facility.”
Pickett’s comments didn’t come during discussion on the 2003 bill. They’re from July 1, 2014. Supporting Abbott’s ruling.
Some of the press to whom Davis will actually speak — there aren’t many, other than maybe the lefty Burnt Orange Report and the Texas Tribune — ought to ask Sen. Davis if Rep. Pickett is in cahoots with Greg Abbott and the Koch brothers to go around hiding dangerous chemicals from everybody. They might also ask whether Davis has spoken with Sen. Van De Putte on the issue. Or any other Democrat who was actually in the Senate when they passed that bill. They all voted for it, so they might have some words of wisdom for Davis.