MSNBC's Hayes Links Bush Admin to Texas Plant Explosion

On Thursday's All In, MSNBC host Chris Hayes hinted that, if only Barack Obama had been successful in his efforts while he was a Senator, the fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas might not have happened, as the MSNBC host also suggested culpability from the Bush administration for transferring chemical plant regulation from the EPA to the Department of Homeland Security.

The MSNBC host plugged the segment at about 8:39 p.m.:

That's President Obama today at the memorial service for those who lost their lives in the fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas. And behind me is Senator Obama in 2006, a man who was trying to prevent explosions like the one in West from happening. We'll tell you who stopped him and why. That's coming up.

A bit later, as he referred to President Obama speaking both at a memorial for those who died in West Texas, and also at the Bush library dedication, Hayes introduced the segment:

These two speaking engagements are not just geographically related. There's a thread that runs through, an amazing and, I think, until now, untold story of the Bush administration and how it went about defeating the kind of regulation that would have strengthened federal oversight for the plant that blew up. We pieced together this story, and here's what happened.

Hayes then recounted that former Bush administration EPA head Christine Todd Whitman had wanted to take more power for the EPA to regulate chemical plants after the 9/11 attacks, while administration member Philip Perry resisted such efforts and ultimately managed to transfer some regulatory power from the EPA to DHS.

The MSNBC host chided the Bush administration:

So let's recap. The Bush administration's own Cabinet secretaries come up with a plan to regulate these chemical plants. It is stymied by Phil Perry once. The Bush administration sides with the chemical industry when it's brought before Congress. And then, basically, in a backroom maneuver, Perry does the chemical industry's bidding by moving the oversight of this from the EPA, which the chemical industry hates, to the DHS, which the chemical industry thinks they can more easily manipulate.

Hayes soon tied in Obama:

Now, here's what makes this all the more incredible. In 2006, when a bill was introduced in the Senate to make chemical plants safer, a bill that was blocked by Republicans, the young Senator who introduced that bill was this man.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Thursday, April 25, All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC:

CHRIS HAYES, DURING PLUG AT 8:39 P.M.: That's President Obama today at the memorial service for those who lost their lives in the fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas. And behind me is Senator Obama in 2006, a man who was trying to prevent explosions like the one in West from happening. We'll tell you who stopped him and why. That's coming up.

(...)

These two speaking engagements are not just geographically related. There's a thread that runs through, an amazing and, I think, until now, untold story of the Bush administration and how it went about defeating the kind of regulation that would have strengthened federal oversight for the plant that blew up. We pieced together this story, and here's what happened.

In the wake of 9/11, there was tremendous concern about the vulnerability of chemical plants, including plants that stored fertilizer. The EPA knew these plants posed a legitimate risk to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The vulnerability of chemical plants made headlines across the country.

(...)

Two Bush administration officials -- Christine Todd Whitman, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and, Tom Ridge, who was Secretary of Homeland Security -- came up with a plan to deal with the vulnerability. Whitman believed the EPA was already empowered to expand her agency's oversight of chemical plants under a section of the Clean Air Act. And she and Ridge worked out a deal to do so.

That is until the son-in-law of former Vice President Dick Cheney walked into the room, a guy by the name of Philip Perry, who was, at the time, general counsel of the White House Office of Management and Budget. And he made it clear the Bush administration was not going to support granting regulatory authority for chemical security to the EPA. According to reports, Perry claimed that their proposal was tantamount to overreach, and they would need Congress to specifically authorize it.

Okay, so Christine Todd Whitman and Tom Ridge, rebuffed, figured out the obvious thing to do was to go up to the Hill and ask Congress for the authority necessary. But, as Whitman writes in her book, "It's My Party, Too: The Battle for the GOP and the Future of America"... (READS FROM WHITMAN'S BOOK)

(...)

Basically, the Bush administration, from above, pulled support for that bill because the chemical industry does not want to be regulated by the EPA. Fast forward a few years to 2007, and Phil Perry, again Dick Cheney's son-in-law, is now over at the Department of Homeland Security as the department's general counsel. And what he manages to do in an uncontroversial bill, an appropriations rider, is slip in industry-friendly language into the bill that moves the task of regulating chemical plants from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Homeland Security. But DHS is given none of the tools it would need to actually do that.

(...)

So let's recap. The Bush administration's own Cabinet secretaries come up with a plan to regulate these chemical plants. It is stymied by Phil Perry once. The Bush administration sides with the chemical industry when it's brought before Congress. And then, basically, in a backroom maneuver, Perry does the chemical industry's bidding by moving the oversight of this from the EPA, which the chemical industry hates, to the DHS, which the chemical industry thinks they can more easily manipulate.

Now, go ahead to six years. The West fertilizer company is storing more than 1,300 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by DHS. And it does appear now that not only did DHS have literally no idea that the West fertilizer company was storing ammonium nitrate, but, according to Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, they just did not know the plant existed until it blew up.

Now, here's what makes this all the more incredible. In 2006, when a bill was introduced in the Senate to make chemical plants safer, a bill that was blocked by Republicans, the young Senator who introduced that bill was this man.

(THEN-SENATOR BARACK OBAMA CLIP)

All right, so, given that the Bush-backed legislation that moved oversight of big places storing fertilizer from EPA to DHS, given that's the law of the land, and given that Republicans in Congress are not going to change it, the administration has been considering just recently granting the EPA the original authority Christine Todd Whitman wanted way back in the first place. Of course, the chemical industry lobby hates this.

So look at this: In February, 10 Republicans and one Democrat teamed up with a bunch of chemical industry groups to fight this proposal tooth and nail. Here's a letter from the groups to members of Congress.

(...)

Here's the best part. Check out the signatories on the bottom. We've highlighted two of them for you: the Fertilizer Institute and the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration.

We'll be right back with the person who inherited the mess that was the Bush EPA. Lisa Jackson joins me next.

Brad Wilmouth
Brad Wilmouth is a contributing blogger to NewsBusters