The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know act (EPCRA) is a 1986 federal law that mandates states create Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC).
Section 301 [42 U.S.C. 11001] states in part, "Not later than 30 days after designation of emergency planning districts or 10 months after the date of the enactment of this title, whichever is earlier, the State emergency response commission shall appoint members of a local emergency planning committee for each emergency planning district. Each committee shall include, at a minimum, representatives from each of the following groups or organizations: elected State and local officials; law enforcement, civil defense, firefighting, first aid, health, local environmental, hospital, and transportation personnel; broadcast and print media; community groups; and owners and operators of facilities subject to the requirements of this subtitle."
According to the Local Emergency Planning Committee Handbook published by the Texas Governor's Division of Emergency Management, "Under EPCRA, the SERC is required to designate Emergency Planning Districts (EPDs) within the state, and to appoint an LEPC for each district. In Texas, the SERC designated each county as an EPD. LEPC membership must meet the criteria established by EPCRA." Additionally, "LEPC members are nominated by the County Judge and approved by the SERC."
In Texas, every county judge is the Director of Emergency Management of his or her county.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) maintains a list of LEPC contacts. According to the TDSHS, "Facilities which file the Texas Tier Two Report with the Texas Department of State Health Services, Tier II Chemical Reporting Program are also required to submit this Report to the local fire department having jurisdiction over the reporting facility and to the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for the county or area in which the reporting facility is located."
Some counties, such as Harris County, have multiple LEPCs and a couple of counties have consolidated their LEPCs into one. The TDSHS list of LEPC contacts is severely outdated despite an April 25, 2013 update date. Although the TDSHS lists 272 LEPCs, some LEPCs have merged, which is not reflected on the TSDHS list.
Of the actual estimated 265 LEPCs in Texas, email addresses were provided for 249 contacts. Email addresses were invalid for 57 of the contacts and the emails bounced. Email contacts for 29 of those 57 failures were found through additional research.
Dave Vance of Ellis County Right to Know has been in contact with 98 of 249 LEPC contacts. Of those 98, 44 were identified as active and 54 were identified as inactive due to various reasons. Not surprisingly, 110 LEPC contacts have not responded to Vance's email inquiry.
Disturbingly, many of the initial LEPC contacts Vance reached have stated they are not the LEPC contact or have not been the LEPC contact for many years.Read more...
If Ellis County's new legacy of billowing fireballs rolling into the sky back in October 2011 isn't an indication of how we roll here in Ellis County, here are three 2013 incidents that further describe how we roll.
On March 19, 2013 a truck taking chemicals to TIMCO for transport to the Magnablend SSC facility at the corner of FM 1446 and Hoyt Road fell into a ditch and rolled over on the I-35 service road down the street from Business 287 in Waxahachie. A report by Waxahachie Daily Light indicated that approximately only 20 gallons of Flopam was spilled.
On April 24, 2013 a report was made to the National Response Center about a chemical tote rolling off of a truck and spilling approximately 200 gallons of ammonium chloride near I-35 and 287 Bypass. Ellis County Right to Know has filed an open records request with the Ellis County Emergency Management Department seeking more information, including the source or destination for the chemical.
On May 10, 2013 a truck rolled on FM 1446 spilling what the CEO of Magnablend estimates as 350 to 500 gallons of a water-based non-hazardous chemical. At the time of this writing, the name of the chemical has not been provided. Ellis County Right to Know has filed an open records request with the Ellis County Emergency Management Department seeking more information.
Ellis County: The county without a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) that rolls chemicals day in and day out!
Brett Shipp of WFAA reported on Friday, May 9, 2013 about Ellis County's lack of a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) and failures within our county's Emergency Management.
In addition to his investigation about the lack of an LEPC, he revealed information about a chemical spill at PENCCO in Bardwell, TX. Mr. Shipp reported that 2,000 pounds of ferric chloride was spilled at the facility.
Ellis County Right to Know has been conducting additional research. According to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), most chemical spills are required to be reported to the National Response Center (RNC).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states, "Section 103 of CERCLA requires the person in charge of a facility or vessel, as soon as he or she has knowledge of a release of a hazardous substance in an amount equal to or greater than an RQ, to report the release immediately to the National Response Center (NRC)."
Releases of 1,000 lbs or more of ferric chloride are required to be reported according to the List of Lists provided by the EPA. The Lists of Lists is the "Consolidated List of Chemicals Subject to the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act."
Exclusions do exist, one of which is "any release which results in exposure to persons solely within a workplace" according to the EPA.
According to a search on the National Response Center website, the incident was not reported.
It is unclear at the time of writing if the spill and any potential airborne contaminates were solely contained on the PENCCO property.
Ferric chloride (CAS #7705-08-0) is hazardous in case of skin contact, of eye contact and of inhalation. It is also listed as toxic to lungs and mucous membranes according to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
Mr. Shipp also reported that the Ellis County Emergency Management Coordinator (EMC) was unable to immediately produce a Tier II report for PENCCO. The EMC ended up having to request the document directly from PENCCO.
Companies are required by state and federal law to submit Tier II reports to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), LEPCs and local fire departments on an annual basis.
Dave Vance of Ellis County Right to Know submitted an open records request with DSHS on May 2, 2013 requesting Tier II reports submitted by the last reporting deadline for every company in Ellis County. DSHS fulfilled Mr. Vance's request on May 3, 2013. Of the 146 entries, no Tier II reports were provided for PENCCO, which indicates they did not submit Tier II reports to the state in the last filing period.
Additionally, the lack of availability of the Tier II report by the Ellis County Emergency Management Department raises questions if PENCCO has been complying with the law even at the local level.
Finally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued notice to PENCCO on July 17, 2012 alleging multiple violations. The alleged violations were:
"Failed to maintain the minimum liquid flow rate of 100 gpm on Scrubber SCRUB-1, in violation of 30 TEX. ADMIN. CODE § 116.115(c), New Source Review Permit No. 85567 Special Conditions No. 4, and TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE § 382.085(b), as documented during an investigation conducted on May 14, 2012. Specifically, records indicate that the flow rate is three gpm or less."
"Failed to test the scrubber medium via Method B402-06 of the American Water Works Association every eight hours while the Site is in operation, in violation of 30 TEX. ADMIN. CODE § 116.115(c), New Source Review Permit No. 85567 Special Conditions No. 5, and TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE § 382.085(b), as documented during an investigation conducted on May 14, 2012. Specifically, records indicate that Scrubber SCRUB-1 scrubber medium pH is tested every four hours during the day but is not tested overnight, when the product is reacting."
A fine of $1,575 was assessed. PENCCO resolved the TCEQ enforcement action on March 5, 2013 by paying an administrative penalty of $1,260 and the remaining $315 was deferred pending compliance with TCEQ Agreed Order 2012-1407-AIR-E.
PENCCO is located at 6555 W. Hwy. 34, Bardwell, TX 75101.
First I want to send my prayers to everyone in West, TX. They are undergoing a tragic event that words cannot explain.
Because of what has occurred in West, I cannot keep images from the Oct. 2011 Magnablend plant explosion out of my head and I cannot forget that the Ellis County Commissioners thought it was a good idea to go out of their way to change existing restrictions and make it possible for Magnablend to move into another residential area.
The incident in West tonight is a clear and unfortunate example of why chemical companies (Magnablend produced fertilizer too) do not belong in residential areas. Houses in West were knocked off their foundations; houses, a nursing home, a school, and an apartment complex were set on fire, houses blown apart and the explosion was felt in Waxahachie and as far as 100 miles from West. Many industries consider the risk of accidents, injuries and death as an acceptable risk. There is NO amount of risk that is ACCEPTABLE.
I was planning to wait a few days to make a formal announcement, but tonight shows us exactly what kind of risk we face here in Ellis County. We were lucky in October 2011. We may not be as lucky next time.
Because of the current Precinct 4 County Commissioners' attitude toward residents in recent months and his participation in helping make a portion of Ellis County an acceptable risk for the chemical industry, I HAVE DECIDED TO RUN FOR ELLIS COUNTY COMMISSIONER PRECINCT 4 in 2014.
I will need your help. Commissioner Brown has been in office for 22 years. That's way too long in my opinion. Obviously I will need monetary contributions to help fund signs and other campaign material, but I will also need your help in going door to door meeting residents.
Please help me start today with a small monetary contribution. I want to work FOR YOU, not against you. We're all in this together!
The following is my online campaign contribution page. My full, official website will be up in a few days.
Ellis County is currently in discussions with LaSalle Southwest Corrections to privatize our jail. LaSalle and privatization proponents claim privatization will save taxpayers money.
I applaud our county officials for looking to save taxpayers money, but I believe the quality of our jail will be compromised.
Of the 2012-2013 jail budget, 51 percent of the $9,531,770 budget is strictly salaries. When benefits are factored in, 71 percent of the budget is spent on salaries and benefits. 19 percent of the budget is spent on feeding inmates and providing inmate medical care. Less than one percent is spent on employee training, screening and jailers' uniforms. The remainder of the budget is spent on operating, capital and auto expenditures.
For a private company to profit while reducing costs to taxpayers, expenses must be reduced. The most significant savings will have to be obtained by reducing salaries and benefits or reducing staffing levels.
According to the budget, the jail is staffed by 127 employees. Excluding benefits, the average salary is $38,388. When benefits are included, the average cost per employee is $53,139. The starting salary for an Ellis County detention officer is between $27,534 and $34,418.
As has been identified in numerous studies, reducing the salaries and benefits of detention officers results in increased turnover, a decrease in qualified applicants and substandard performance. Quality of service is significantly reduced. Reducing staffing levels results in the same problems.
I urge the County Commissioners to research LaSalle's past problems and problems other for-profit correctional companies have created. The reputations are far from stellar.
The second largest chunk of the budget is spent on feeding inmates and providing medical care. These expenses are difficult to reduce unless LaSalle plans on denying medical care to inmates, which is illegal.
If any of our county officials honestly believe privatizing our jail will save money without reducing quality of service, why do they not instead duplicate what LaSalle would do to save money? There is nothing that LaSalle can do that our county government cannot.
If there are legitimate ways that LaSalle can reduce costs that our county is not currently doing, then that signals to me that our jail is mismanaged. If that is the case, then we need to clean up our mess instead of looking to a private company to do it for us.
However, I do not believe this is the case. Sheriff Johnny Brown started charging inmates a co-pay for medical services to help hold medical expenses at the same levels of previous budget years. The 2012-2013 jail budget was increased $207,542 from the previous year. $205,974 of that went to salaries and benefits while inmate medical care and food remained the same.
I believe LaSalle cannot provide taxpayers the same level of services while also making a profit. Additionally, we would be turning over control of the jail to a company that profits from increased incarceration when the goal should be to reduce crime and reduce jail occupancy. Instead, we are creating an incentive to incarcerate individuals.
If our county officials believe cost-savings can be found, I recommend performing an audit of jail expenditures to identify areas where expenses can be reduced rather than turn a legitimate function of government over to a private for-profit organization.
Time, money and resources are being wasted on entertaining the idea of privatizing our jail. I urge our County Commissioners to end privatization discussions so that our county employees can focus on other county business. We are wasting employee productivity on something that is not in the best interest of Ellis County. Lost productivity costs money, so these discussions are already costing taxpayers.
Our county government is dysfunctional. I don't know if members of the Ellis County Commissioners' Court are taking calculated steps to hinder the public's involvement in county government, but these failures at providing government transparency show that our leadership is inept and members of our Commissioners' Court are not concerned with transparency.
Previously, Ellis County maintained a mailing list that was used to email Commissioners' Court agendas, minutes, press releases and other county government notifications to members of the public who signed up to the mailing list. The last time the mailing list was used to send a Commissioners' Court agenda was in January.
Following this, Precinct Four Commissioner Ron Brown attempted to end evening meetings on February 11. Brown's proposal failed to receive a second, but Precinct Two Commissioner Bill Dodson revived the request on March 11 and it passed 3-1 with Precinct Three Commissioner Paul Perry casting the only dissenting vote.
As the Waxahachie Daily Light mentioned in an editorial on March 14, former Ellis County Judge Chad Adams initiated the move to provide evening county meetings over a decade ago because daytime working residents felt it was too difficult to get time off work otherwise.
The four largest cities in Ellis County — Ennis, Midlothian, Red Oak and Waxahachie — hold evening City Council meetings to provide the public the opportunity to be involved, but members of our current Commissioners' Court have decided that public involvement in county business is unnecessary.
The third obvious failure at providing government transparency is the slow process in which Commissioners' Court meeting minutes are posted to the county's website. At the time of this writing, the last meeting minutes posted are from January 28. Three meetings have been held since.
During a December 10, 2012 meeting, the county's IT Director requested the Commissioners' Court approve spending $4,000 to upgrade the county's website that would include additional functionality. The motion passed unanimously. However, Ellis County is not using current functionality to keep the public informed as has been done in the past. What was the point of spending more money on a service that the county is not currently utilizing to its full potential?
Finally, I recently requested audio recordings of the February 11 and March 11 Commissioners' Court meetings. The County Clerk told me "The quality is terrible with a capital T" and "It's way past time to get a new recorder."
The problem with audio recordings is not new. Not to rehash a past controversial topic, but when residents asked for an audio recording following the December 12, 2011 Commissioners' Court vote to change the deed restrictions on the old Superconducting Super Collider property, the public was told the audio recorder was broken and no audio was available.
My complaint is not with the County Clerk. She has been extremely helpful and accommodating to me. However, Ellis County needs a new recorder immediately. Not only will a new recorder provide greater transparency, it will also increase the productivity of our County Clerk as she writes the minutes following Commissioners' Court meetings.
One of our founding fathers, James Madison, wrote in 1822, "A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."