Thoughts & Views: Hold government’s feet to the fire

A couple of major news stories that made headlines recently made me wonder where the United States is headed as a force for change in the world.

First, there was the devastating fire at the fertilizer plant in Texas that laid waste to much of the host town, West, and the puzzlement over what, if anything, to do about it.

Then there was the globally alarming development, reported in last Saturday’s New York Times, about the record level of carbon dioxide the world is producing through the burning of fossil fuels.

Both issues should raise concerns over what Americans stand for and how America can try to use its geopolitical power to effect positive outcomes for our planet.

In the aftermath of the tragic fire April 17 at the West Fertilizer Co. plant that killed 14 – mostly emergency first responders – and injured some 200, both Lone Star State Gov. Rick Perry and West Mayor Tommy Muska weren’t pushing for more aggressive regulation of fire codes for these facilities, of which there are said to be several hundred in the state, according to reporting by The Times on May 10.

Texas even outlaws rural counties from implementing fire safety codes. Its largest city, Houston, the Times noted, doesn’t even have zoning laws.

Maybe when you have a state with such wide open spaces, you figure you don’t need restrictions telling folks how they can live.

Texas being a super business- friendly place, I guess it makes sense that its officials would ease off pressuring factory owners to put in expensive fire sprinkler systems and provide other safety precautions.

Couldn’t Lyndon Johnson have used the same persuasive techniques he was famously associated with in the White House to push through his “Great Society” legislation to corral Lone Star lawmakers to afford their citizens more protection?

Maybe it’s all about the votes and the money.

That’s “states’ rights” for you.

But official government neglect extends to the national sphere, too.

As the Times reported on May 11, two agencies that monitor carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego – announced that the gas had reached an average daily level of about 400 parts per million.

That’s a level that, scientists say, the earth hasn’t seen in perhaps 3 million years when the planet was a lot hotter.

The time isn’t far, those same experts fear, when the ice caps will continue to melt at such a pace that the oceans and waterways will flood cities all along the coast.

All because countries around the globe – including the U.S. – aren’t doing enough to push the development of alternate technologies – like the electric car – to significant reduce the volume of that heat-trapping gas.

Yes, some nations have subscribed to international treaties pledging to get that done but where is the U.S. around this goal? Why isn’t our President sounding the alarm with more alactrity? Why isn’t the United Nations reacting? Do we just keep putting this issue off like Congress has done with sequestering?

We can’t afford to wait until we’re carried off to oblivion. Act now and don’t leave this terrible legacy for the next generation.

– Ron Leir

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