Roundup: Chemical Safety in Texas

Texas uses “volunteer” approach to better ammonium nitrate safety • Nebraska lures high-tech workers home • Colorado to consider change in rural phone subsidy • Rural highway speed limit in Missouri may rise • A common set of rural complaints in Shropshire, England


Texas Department of Insurance

An example of the information a Texas state government website reveals when users search for hazardous chemical storage in ZIP code 76634. The ZIP is for Clifton, Texas, which is about 35 miles from the city of West. West’s ZIP code  (76691) maps no facilities. An explosion at a fertilizer plant there last year killed 15 people.

Dangerous Chemical Storage. The response of the state of Texas to the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West includes a state fire marshal’s educational tour and a website that gives only a rough approximation of the location of facilities that store major amounts of the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate.

“Distrust of government runs deep in Texas, and the explosion did not spur serious calls from lawmakers for new regulations or a statewide fire code,” reports Nomaan Merchant of the Associated Press. “Any change to how hazardous chemicals are stored here will likely have to come voluntarily, through attempts at persuasion such as [the fire marshal’s] road trip.”

The state website allows users to search by ZIP code for facilities that hold more than five tons of ammonium nitrate, the chemical that exploded in West. But the site doesn’t provide any information on the facilities. There’s no name, address or information about how much of the chemical is stored at any given location. And there’s no way to search beyond entering individual ZIP codes.

Rural Sourcing. You’ve heard of outsourcing. Well, how about “rural sourcing”?

Xpanxion, an Atlanta-based software company, is recruiting high-tech employees to live and work in rural Nebraska. The effort has created about 100 jobs in the past six years in some counties that are otherwise seeing a population decline.

Xpanxion is getting help from the Center for Rural Research and Development at the University Nebraska at Kearney, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

The story also notes similar rural high-tech job-creation efforts in Upstate New York and Kansas.

“Addressing the brain drain revitalizes small towns,” said Shawn Kaskie, director of the Center for Rural Research and Development.

Colorado Phone Subsidy. In Colorado, lawmakers are gearing up to change a rural phone subsidy to support broadband services. The program, called the High Cost Support Mechanism, currently provides $50 million for phone service in harder-to-serve rural areas. Some lawmakers would like to see that money go toward providing broadband in underserved rural areas.

“It’s a crime that three or four years have passed and we’ve done so little to advance rural infrastructure,” state Senator Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village told the Denver Post. “By funding land lines and copper-line phones, we’re funding buggy whips with a really important asset of $50 million to $60 million a year.”

The Post lists the following possible sticking points in new policy:

• Whether the broadband funds would cover both unserved and underserved areas of the state, or just unserved areas.

• Whether grant recipients would be required to contribute matching funds.

• Which agency would administer the program.

• How much would remain for land-line service in areas that are still “high cost” to serve.

More than 90% of the current subsidy goes to one telephone company, CenturyLink.

Pedal to the Metal in Missouri? A Missouri lawmaker has pre-filed a bill in the Legislature to raise the state’s speed limit on rural highways to 75 mph, up from the current limit of 70. The Missouri Legislature is scheduled to start their annual session Wednesday.

Shropshire Calls “Foul.” A piece from the Shropshire Star, in the West Midlands of England, caught our attention. The story is about National Health Service funding, but the writer says that’s only part of the problem. This list of Shropshire complaints should sound familiar to Daily Yonder readers:  limited public transportation options, lack of broadband, fewer services for an aging population and inadequate education funding:

Not for the first time, Shropshire is calling foul. In the corridors of Whitehall they probably think Shropshire is a nice place to live and that is a reward in itself, that Salopians [Shropshire residents] are all affluent folk, and that the real priority is urban areas where, as it happens, most voters live.

This discrimination against rural areas is seen in everything, from education funding to the delivery of high speed broadband. In reality, instead of having a lovely life in the fresh air admiring the Shropshire hills, Salopians have special disadvantages which justify this county getting extra help.

Accessing any services is difficult for those in the smaller towns and villages, and public transport is lacking. Shropshire has an older population, and the army of the retired in Shropshire need the [National Health Service] more than the younger people who typically live in urban areas.