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Extremely Complicated Concepts Explained For Michelle Malkin Fans

[ 119 ] April 18, 2013 |

The lack of appropriate zoning restrictions did not cause the fertilizer plant explosion in West, TX. It did, however, make the consequences of the explosion far more devastating than was necessary. You’re welcome!


Comments (119)

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  1. c u n d gulag says:

    Don’t confuse the stupid with facts – it only makes them angrier!

    • MosesZD says:

      Yeah… I’ve got some of those in my family.

      During the Obama-care debates some of them were pointing out how some Canadians come to America for specialized medical care they don’t do as much of in Canada. How that was a failure of socialized medicine.

      Pointing out that, in fact, these Canadians were sent to the best doctors in the world at the Canadian Health Care System’s expense… Nope, that was still a failure…

      • the original spencer says:

        My (racist and) rabidly anti-Obama mother-in-law was complaining the other month about how her insurance will only let her fill her prescriptions at the local Wal Mart pharmacy. She added, with a dramatic wave of her hands, “that’s your government for you!”

        I pointed out that nowhere in ObamaCare did it say that only Wal Mart could fill prescriptions. I explained that this was something her private health insurer did, and she was therefore stuck with it unless she wanted to change jobs.

        The saddest part? She’s spent the last 25 years working in a hospital. In the accounts receivable department.

        • prufrock says:

          The saddest part? She’s spent the last 25 years working in a hospital. In the accounts receivable department.

          Hey, cognitive dissonance is routine in the wing nut mind. My favorite personal example is my cousin’s husband. He’s always going on about how government can’t accomplish anything good.

          Of course he works for a utility company.

          In East Tennessee.

          • evodevo says:

            Well, THAT won’t be a problem much longer …

          • Green Caboose says:

            The staunchest conservative people in my neighborhood tend to have similar profiles. They get subsidized government health insurance, one of the best plans in the country; they are enjoying sizable government pensions for life based on 20-25 years of actual work for the the government (at 60% of their pay when they retired in their 40s); they have access to subsidized, high quality government facilities for shopping and recreation (such as golf, indoor tennis, bowling, swimming); and they enjoy a myriad of other government subsidized benefits such as mortgage help. Most of them, because they don’t pull in much of second incomes, aren’t paying federal taxes (so they are in the fabled “47%”) but think they do because, of course, on their 1040s they pay tax for SS and Medicare.

            Yet you won’t find a group that is more livid about government freeloaders, about Obamacare, and about how the government can’t do any thing right.

            I’m talking, of course, about retired military officers.

        • Anna in PDX says:

          Yeah a lot of my worst wingnut friends work for state or federal institutions here in Oregon. I don’t get it at all.

        • Shakezula says:

          I wish I felt surprised.

          But I speak to doctors on a regular basis. (They aren’t all or even 70% bad. But sometimes … Yowzers, there’s some dumb in them thar hills.)

          It is amazing how people can compartmentalize knowledge if it means maintaining a closely held opinion.

  2. Shakezula says:

    For this to work you need to make it clear that you are in no way suggesting the job producing factory owners did anything wrong. Further, the citizens of West made the decision to live there so it is really their fault if they are hurt, dead, in shock …

  3. joe from Lowell says:

    Of course a lack of zoning didn’t cause the explosion.

    Lack of worker and environmental safety regulation and enforcement caused the explosion.

    Hope this helps, monkeys!

    • Alan in SF says:

      The factory is separated from the nursing home, middle school, and residential neighborhood by what must have been thought to be a magic protective barrier: North Reagan Street.

  4. penpen says:

    Libertarianism would be a lot more convincing if it didn’t so often amount to grown adults looking at real world problems and acting like children closing their eyes, sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU”

  5. Royko says:

    If people didn’t want to live next to a fertilizer plant, they could always move. Why do you hate the free market?

    • LeftWingFox says:

      And yet I’ve been reading news commenters making that exact argument, adding “mama and dada guvwerment”, which apparently makes the argument much more compelling.

      • Tyto says:

        The Police Power: How does it work?

        I’d like to think that the argument was basically settled in 1926, and zoning as a concept remains constitutional, but…

    • Kurzleg says:

      I wonder which came first, the plant or the homes? Anyone know?

      • povertyrich says:

        Doesn’t really matter. If the homes came first, the crappy zoning regulations let the plant be built in a neighbourhood. If the plant came first, crappy zoning regulations let developers build a neighbourhood near a plant where the undoubtedly more affordable housing attracted people who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.

        I guess they could have chosen to be more wealthy. . .

        • Kurzleg says:

          I don’t disagree. I was just curious. Means is a factor that libertarians conveniently ignore.

        • rvman says:

          I just want to know what idiot thought it was a good idea to build a high school and a middle school next to a fertilizer plant. (The plant was clearly quite old just from looking at satellite shots, and the schools reasonably new.) That isn’t a zoning fail, that is an unforced error by the school district. This could have been a lot worse if it had happened at 7:50 AM rather than 7:50 PM.

        • Pseudonym says:

          But the fact that people chose to live there proves that they were better off there than at any other place open to them, or being homeless.

      • max says:

        The weird thing is I was telling someone about where I grew up at the moment it was happening. Really. The fertilizer plant was about 100 yards from my old house — which may or may not still be standing. I could see it, and smell it, every day I was there. I played basketball in the park across the railroad tracks from it. The school that was partially destroyed was my middle school. I had a fight with a kid in the apartment building that was demolished; we later became friends and he showed me his uncle’s collection of throwing stars. My great-grandmother lived out her last days in the rest home behind that apartment building. The head of emergency services, Dr. George Smith, was my doctor. My friend Mike Lednicky’s parents’ house is gone. A lot of houses are gone. The explosion was the equivalent of a 2.1 earthquake, and it spit fire.

        Plants been there forever. I doubt it ever really occurred to anyone (except in ’95) that the entire plant could cook off in one go.


        • Joel Patterson says:

          max–while it may not occur to ordinary people, any civil engineer should be able to tell you about the potential hazards of facilities like this. If Texas, and America, would pony up a little more dough to hire OSHA and Fire inspectors, we would reduce the death and damage these explosions and mishaps cause.
          By the way, are some of the owners of this plant named Adair? As in Red Adair, who put out oil well fires?

  6. […] …[SL] Welcome flying monkeys! I know the points here are hard to understand, but here’s a primer. […]

  7. oldster says:

    If you lie-berals would only let the free market be free, then the explosion could have bargained with all of the townspeople, and they could have decided how much money it was worth to them to not be killed, and then everyone would have reached an amicable market-based solution on the basis of free consensual contractual goodness, before the shock-wave hit them!

    Sure, it would have had to happen in milliseconds, but that’s easy-peasy for the free-market, because Hayek proved that it’s a better calculator than all of your fancy central-planning main-frames could ever be.

    So it’s really your fault that the explosion killed them! If you statists won’t let explosions find their own market-clearing price, then it’s your fault that the explosion cleared the market!

  8. firefall says:

    Scott, given one of the comments from the last thread, which appeared to have quite specific knowledge of the town, it appears that this is not the case, i.e. the plant pre-existed the town and a subsequent zoning system, if applied, wouldn’t have actually prevented this, short of moving the whole town away (which, um, zoning systems can’t actually do).

    (dunno how to link to a specific comment, but search t for cactusflinthead to see the comment)

    All on the assumption it was honest, rather than a clever and elaborate misinformation

    • ploeg says:

      Zoning would have prevented the town from being built out to the plant. It’s not as if there wasn’t any room to build in directions other than toward the plant.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Right–there’s a ton of farm land all around there. It’s not hard to find land to build a plant several miles from any town.

        • Shakezula says:

          Yes, because it isn’t as if the farmland is being used for anything.


          • Erik Loomis says:

            In much of Texas, that farmland is being used to sell to developers for suburban tract housing.

            Farmland in Texas is cheap and easy to buy, especially in that area.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            And what’s with the “Wow”? I know you like your righteous indignation over completely random things that I write, but I don’t think land use policy in Texas is exactly where you want to make your stand.

            • Shakezula says:

              I get irritated because you say thoughtless and illogical things that you seem to pull from your ass.

              So, to be clear:

              The objection to the thoughtless and illogial assertion that the factory should have been built on farmland is where I’m making my stand. It doesn’t make any sense to say land that is in use is the natural answer for plunking down a factory.

              For you to come back and say that the land is being sold for McMansionvilles is sort of a good come back, if you can show that this was the case when the factory was built.

              Of course one could then easily ask why the town wasn’t built on the cheap land?

              But I’m willing to bet the answer is the same: It wasn’t built on that land because it was being used.

              • Erik Loomis says:

                The factory was obviously built on what was once farmland. Everything was once farmland in central Texas. Much of it still is farmland. That farmland is often rapidly being converted to other uses, largely suburban, but there’s also a lot of industrial or quasi-industrial sites out there, gravel pits, grain silos, fertilizer factories, gas and oil production, etc. The question is why the factory and neighborhood were built so close to one another. It’s not like land used for one purpose stays being used for that purpose in perpetuity. And whenever that factory was built, there was probably a century or more of land use by white Texans before that.

                In other words, I actually do know what I’m talking about. I’ve also been to West, Texas probably 20 times. I know what that plant looks like. I have seen it with my own eyes 

                Also, you can be quite an unpleasant asshole.

                • Shakezula says:

                  Everything was once farmland in central Texas.

                  See, if I thought you were stupid, I would think you thought this was true.

                  It’s not like land used for one purpose stays being used for that purpose in perpetuity. And whenever that factory was built, there was probably a century or more of land use by white Texans before that.

                  Part of this is your standard hot chaff when the oiks dare to question you, I’ll ignore that too.

                  So, question: Are you saying that the factory (or the town) should have later MOVED when land became available elsewhere? (Just yes or no, I really am just asking.)

                  Follow up: Do you believe the residents had a duty to seek housing elsewhere? There was, after all plenty of cheap land in the vicinity.

                  Also, you can be quite an unpleasant asshole.

                  Then drop the banhammer, Ace. You can be assured one less unpleasantness in you day.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Ideally, the state should have stepped in before this became a situation. At some point in any case, the state should have stepped in and helped the plant relocate farther out into the countryside. I’m sure some struggling farmers would have sold their land at high prices to make this happen, given that they often sell their lands at lower prices for other uses.

                  I don’t want to ban you. You say useful things sometimes. But you are also an asshole for no reason. An alternative would be you actually being nice, even when you disagree with me. There are ways to express that disagreement that don’t reflect so bad on you. People do it here all the time.

                • Mark D'ski says:

                  I’ll bet it has to do with the price of land. Build a fertilizer factory and the land around it (even though it is farmland) is much cheaper then farmland further away. Thus the smart (and soon to be wealthy )developer will always build on the cheaper land. Of course, said developer won’t live in these neighborhoods.

              • suggestions says:

                Walk over to a wall.
                Smash your face into it several times.
                Read more carefully next time.

              • L2P says:

                Just FYI, all land is “in use.” All land is either residential, commercial/industrial, farming, parkland/government, or open space. There is NO UNUSED LAND. Anywhere.

                This “in use” argument is a leftover from the 19th century, when land that was inhabited by native Americans wasn’t “being used” so it was cool for white Europeans to just, you know, take it and all. But it wasn’t even true then – the land was still “in use.”

                So no, there’s no sense in which the fertilizer plant or the residences and schools “had” to be built in any specific place because the other land was “in use.” It might, possibly, be true that it was “cheaper” to build in one spot than another, but all of the land is “in use.”

              • Royko says:

                I would think that it’s unlikely that at the time either the factory or the community around the factory was built that land-use was so tight and farming so lucrative that there wouldn’t have been other sites available for close to the same cost.

                I don’t think anyone is trying to disparage farming. But one resource Texas has no shortage of is land, and there’s not much point in pretending otherwise. Yes, much of the land will be used for farming, but that doesn’t mean that purchasable land will become scarce. You see urban (well, exurban) development sprawl into farmland, not the reverse, for a reason.

            • Words have meaning and consequence says:

              I don’t view the criticisms as random things. Rather, highlighted words about specific things where your glib commentary offends as it obscures the greater point. Gratitude would be more appropriate than defensiveness in the few cases you are alluding to. This is all on your permanent record anyway as the internet lives forever ;)

          • quercus says:

            So, you believe that the land the houses were built on was, what, created out of nothingness and wasn’t being used for anything before the houses (especially not, for example, being used as farmland)?

            Although the wingnuts have already won if we’re seriously discussing zoning here. The basic problem is, you know, the freaking explosion. Which is something that OSHA, local fire department, etc. should have been trying to prevent.

      • Royko says:

        That’s what I don’t get. I’ve lived in cities, and it’s pretty obvious why zoning restrictions can get contentious — there’s just not much room for alternatives.

        But they’ve got all the space in the world. “Could you build your homes/hospitals/nursing homes a mile away in ANY DIRECTION?” doesn’t seem to be a huge burden.

        (Now watch them call us hypocrites for trying to hurt “walkability” and increase driving. :p )

      • David W. says:

        Sure, but there’s an exit off Interstate 35 (which runs N-S along the west side of town) that likely served as a magnet for the town’s development.

        What this is though isn’t a failure of zoning but a failure to plan for growth in a comprehensive way. What you get when you don’t plan is usually haphazard decision making that follows a path of least resistance. So if there was available land for a school near town but next to the fertilizer plant, well, it’s cheaper being nearer existing infrastructure so build it there.

        Texas in general isn’t big on planning, period. For a lot of things this isn’t a deadly problem, but sometimes it is.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          i dunno. planning and zoning run together, or at least they should

          • David W. says:

            Zoning has to be based on a comprehensive plan that’s officially adopted by the community. Otherwise there’s nothing preventing re-zoning whenever it’s convenient.

          • L2P says:

            In most municipalities Zoning and Planning are the same department.

            • Erik Loomis says:

              Or as they call the planning department in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, “Developer Services”

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Well at least they’re honest about it!

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                “We pitched them Rio Rancho in nineteen sixty-nine and they wouldn’t buy. They couldn’t buy a fucking toaster. They’re broke, John.”

              • Shakezula says:

                Hot and cold running hand jobs?

                I often think the MOTUs would like it if we proles fucked off and left them to survey their kingdom.

                Apparently the economy has reached the point where a person such as a developer doesn’t need people to buy the fucking houses or shop in the malls. Just plonk down the houses and throw up the shops and the Invisible Hand will stuff them full of cash.

                What a fucking world.

                • cpinva says:

                  “Just plonk down the houses and throw up the shops and the Invisible Hand will stuff them full of cash.”

                  if they’re really smart, they don’t even need to bother with the “plonking down houses and throwing up shops” part. they just get the the first part of the loan from the bank, put up the basic infrastructure (pads, plumbing/sewer/electric), get the second part of the construction loan, and go bankrupt, walking off with the cash.

                  they then start another company, wash/rinse/repeat. it worked great in the 80’s & 90’s, i feel certain it’s ready for a comeback now.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Either way it is a zoning failure. If the plant preexisted the town’s growth into that area, then zoning should have prohibited home building near the plant. If the plant came after the neighborhood was established, zoning should have prohibited its construction near a neighborhood.

      • Tyto says:

        Similar situations are more common than you think, even in areas with relatively well-developed zoning and land use schemes–think port areas and areas with petroleum industries as major employers.

        For instance, in California, the primary tool for evaluation of the potential effects of projects–the Environmental Impact Report–is usually not required to evaluate the effects of the existing environment on a project. Still, you would think that local legislators might, as a policy matter, want to limit the kind of development that happened here.

        • cpinva says:

          “Still, you would think that local legislators might, as a policy matter, want to limit the kind of development that happened here.”

          what you will find, is that most, if not all, of those local legislators are either developers themselves, or are involved in real estate in some fashion. or, they own businesses that they believe will be positively impacted by more development. in other words, all of them have direct conflicts of interest.

          my dad was the zoning administrator for a county, back in the late 60’s, early 80’s. this was the case, with nearly every county in va, and va wasn’t unique in that regard. this is why there so many exits on I-95, from woodbridge, va to the district, because the developers/legislators saw that interstate as a “feeder” for their grand development plans. and most of that land had been either farm or dairy land too.

          absent supported enforcement, which the local legislators have zero interest in, zoning laws are simply suggestions.

      • Snarki, child of Loki says:

        Clearly this never would have happened if those black-robed crypto-commies on the supreme court allowed prayer in that middle school.

        Or, at least, the explosion would have happened during an algebra exam.

      • PSP says:

        Even without decent zoning, you would think that someone have decided that building the school next to a giant bomb perhaps wasn’t the best of ideas.

    • Bill Murray says:

      if the plant was there before the houses, why were the houses allowed to be built near the plant?

      • L2P says:

        Unless the zoning code is very specific, usually “less intrusive uses” are allowed in lower (or higher, depending on the code) use zones. So industrial is never allowed in residential, but residential is allowed in industrial.

    • SatanicPanic says:

      Unless the factory, middle school and nursing home all sprung up simultaneously, I don’t see why zoning couldn’t have prevented this.

    • Tyto says:

      That depends on how the zoning code operates. Some zoning codes allow for effectively unlimited operation of legally non-conforming uses, as long as the use is not expanded or intensified; others provide amortization periods to allow the owner of a non-conforming use to recoup expenditures made in reliance on the previous zoning, then require shut-down at the end of that period. In California, the former is the more common approach. I don’t know about Texas.

  9. Uncle Kvetch says:

    The only thing that will stop a big explosion is an even bigger explosion. Therefore, if the good citizens of West had been allowed to keep small thermonuclear devices in their basements (AS IS THEIR RIGHT IT’S IN THE CONSTITUTION LOOK IT UP LIBTARDS) none of this would have happened.

  10. Wapiti says:

    The google ( says that West, Texas was formed into a town in 1892. (It was built on land belonging to a man named Mr. West, who became the postmaster.)

    So did the plant predate the town? I’d bet it didn’t.

    I think the plant probably predates some of the buildings, especially the high school (which looks new in the aerial photographs). But the town was able to get the land cheap, I’m sure.

  11. JoyfulA says:

    Texas doesn’t have zoning, does it? Someone told me that once as the reason for the incredible urban sprawl.

  12. bspencer says:

    Don’t make her twitchy!

  13. Steve says:

    Of course the Malkin people would fly in on an explosion of fertilizer.

    • DrDick says:

      This would be organic fertilizer, however.

    • Major Kong says:

      I’m surprised they were able to take the time off from peering in windows to see what kind of counter tops people have.

      • Shakezula says:

        I just flashed on this image of those troglodytes scrabbling through the wreckage, looking for proof the citizens of West did something to deserve the disaster.

        Look, this could be the corner of an Obama yard sign!


        Hey guys, the remains of an energy saver light bulb is embedded in this wall.


        Maybe the energy saver light bulbs caused the explosion.

        Ha ha ha!

        I wasn’t. Joking.

  14. My reference to potentially dangerous industrial facilities and houses being built in proximity to them referred to Pasadena and the host of refineries there. 1922 is when the Deer Park historical marker records the first refinery being built in the area. Concerning West, Texas I surmise that the town grew in much the same way. When the industrial area ‘on the other side of the tracks’ was built it was in an area zoned for it. The fact that it was still near populated areas was more a function of the small size of rural communities and and less about ignoring inherent dangers. When this place was first built it is quite possible it was a safer distance away from most housing.

    Fwiw, I am not here to troll. Regular lurker. Figured I would throw in my two cents concerning this situation. shrug.

  15. UserGoogol says:

    The idea of zoning laws be used to actually promote safety is incredibly alien to me. I suppose that’s because the fact that hazardous chemical factories shouldn’t be put next to schools is taken for granted, so zoning boards in the more civilized parts of the world focus on spiting over potential pizza places.

  16. Trollhattan says:

    At the end of this BBC piece is an aerial of the fertilizer plant, town and some labeled features. The middle school is physically adjacent to the plant property; somebody thought this was a good ideal?!?

    Honestly, there’s not that much to the plant. Looks like a bulk storage tank, one or two processing facilities, a storage shed and a big yard. Not a hell of a lot of capital invested there, although the site itself is certainly heavily contaminated by routine plant operations and various leaks and spills, i.e., perfect for somebody to develop condos.

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