FEMA's Rejection of More Money for West Seems Fair Enough

Let me see if I get this. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is already paying Texas 75 percent of its costs for cleanup in West and making $8 million in low interest loans to individuals. But because FEMA ruled recently that Texas is capable of picking up the balance of the costs, our statewide leaders are accusing President Obama of being a lying son of a bitch.

Let's do the whole picture. The town of West did nothing ahead of time to protect itself from the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people and damaged or destroyed half the town's structures. As Brett Shipp at WFAA-Channel 8 television in Dallas has reported in a series of stunning exposes, McClennan County emergency preparedness officials had no idea in the years before the blast what was in the plant, notified no one of the enormous potential threat and made no attempt to prepare local first-responders for a disaster.

After the mayhem, West Mayor Tommy Muska joined Texas Governor Rick "Oops" Perry in telling the media there was no need for increased oversight or community preparedness for potential industrial disasters. This is against a backdrop in which both U.S. senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, had joined Bill Flores, the congressman from West, in voting against the aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims in New Jersey, consistent with their ideological opposition to government assistance in general and federal aid in particular.

In spite of that stand, Texas is the nation's biggest federal disaster aid welfare client, sucking down 86 federal disaster declarations between 1953 and 2011, more than any other state. The other index of how things are working is that Texas for the last decade has had the nation's highest rate of workplace fatalities.

So we don't inspect. We don't regulate. And we don't want to help anybody else. Then, put this into the picture: Federal officials already have agreed to give $25 million to West in the form of grants and loans. But the Texas Legislature, which just gave away $1 billion in tax relief and still has $8 billion in its rainy day fund, gave West a lousy $2 million. That's against total uninsured damages in West estimated at $34.5 million. You know what two million bucks is to West right now? Spit in the face.

Meanwhile Governor Oops is touring the northeast bragging about how much better Texas is for business. And I guess in a certain sense you can't deny it. Businesses in Texas can burn up, blow up and maim their own employees, and nobody gives a shit. In fact those industrial plants capable of blowing up like an A-bomb won't even be inspected. They won't be required to carry adequate insurance. If there's some cheap land next to an elementary school, grab it.

Texas state government can keep socking away that rainy day money, because it doesn't have to spend any money inspecting plants or protecting people. State tax money is all gravy when the state doesn't have to do anything with it.

Then if the worst does happen, the plant blows up, kills people, wrecks the town and leaves its people angry, broken and devastated, who do you think Texas will blame?


You know what the worst part is for me? I have always had a very special affection for West. It has a wonderful and unique history. You think Texas is hard-bitten now? You wouldn't even want to imagine what Texas would be like if all those north and central Texas 19th century European ethnic colonies like West weren't there. West is where I first heard the jukebox song: "In heaven there is no beer, that's why we have it here."

But in this whole blame-it-on-Obama business, I just hear a bunch of irresponsible people not taking care of their own business as a state, not standing on their own two feet as a state, bragging about how they don't need no stinking help from the federal government and then falling onto a snot-blowing boo-hoo when they don't get every last dollar they want from Uncle Sam to bail them out from their own social irresponsibility. If I were Uncle Sam and I got that very unwelcome late-night call from a relative like Texas, I think I might offer the same advice: "Why don't you give your Uncle Oops a call?"

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze