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News Archive

Coastal Spine is Needed to Protect our Industry and our Communities

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas.

As we approach hurricane season, we are reminded of the devastation caused by previous storms along the Texas Coast.  In 2008, Hurricane Ike was the third costliest storm event in U.S. history with an estimated $30 billion in damage, but was actually considered a “near miss”. Had Ike made landfall 30 miles to the southwest, the damage would have devastated one of the most populated regions in the country and crippled industry along the Houston Ship Channel that serve as a vital economic artery to the country and the world. 

Hurricanes Ike and Rita prompted state lawmakers, local elected officials and local community leaders to examine a coastal barrier or coastal spine to protect the upper coastal region from storm surge resulting from hurricanes and other major storms.  The Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee to Study a Coastal Barrier System has been working with university researchers to develop a storm surge protection system for the upper Texas coast. 

I was invited to testify at the committee hearing at Texas A&M University at Galveston, and emphasized the importance of a coastal barrier system to protect our industrial assets, but also to protect our employees, their families and the millions of Texans who live in the coastal region.

Our industry facilities are engineered and designed to withstand major storm events prone to the region. But our employees who operate and maintain our facilities, and the millions of Texans who call the coastal region home, need a coastal barrier system to protect their homes and families. Without our employees, our facilities cannot operate.

Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG) has led the research for a coastal barrier system and has proposed a coastal spine to extend the Galveston seawall - which was originally built in the early 1900s - and protect the entirety of Galveston and Chambers Counties.  The barrier system would be covered with sand and native grasses. Large gates would be placed along the navigation channel and would close during major weather events to prevent storm surge form entering Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel.  The technology is modeled after an existing gate system used in the Netherlands which has been successfully used to protect the region from numerous major storms. The Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District (GCCPRD), led by former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is coordinating a five county initiative to look at all the research and unify support from county officials behind a single plan.

The Army Corps of Engineers has also been conducting a study to develop a proposed plan but indicates that their research will not be completed until 2021 at the earliest.

Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who chairs the Joint Coastal Barrier committee, said the state needs Congressional action to expedite the Corps process and appropriate federal funding to pay for the project. Taylor pointed out that following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city of New Orleans received $14 billion from the federal government. Texas has not received any federal money following the devastation of Hurricanes Ike and Rita, and our region has a significantly higher population than New Orleans.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Randy Weber (R-Pearland) have recently filed federal legislation to expedite a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study that will determine how best to protect the region from a devastating hurricane. The legislation, dubbed the “Corps’ Obligation to Assist in Safeguarding Texas” or COAST Act, would also streamline congressional authorization for any project that comes from the Corps study.

“Texans along our coast live under the constant threat of weather-related devastation to their homes, their livelihoods, and their communities,” Sen. Cornyn said in a statement. “By reducing inefficiency and eliminating duplication, we can speed up the Army Corps’ process to ultimately help bring families, businesses, and communities along the coast the peace of mind they deserve.”

“We’re heightening awareness, we’re trying to get this ratcheted up as quickly as we can, so that when appropriations do come into play, we can say, ‘Okay, here’s the project we’ve been talking about, here’s why it’s important, and we’re just one step closer to getting funding for it,’” Congressman Weber said.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Democrat whose district includes the Houston Ship Channel, said he would be happy to co-sponsor such legislation. He added that he was sure other members of Congress from the region would support it, as well.

It’s very difficult to build such an ambitious U.S. public works project in anticipation of a natural catastrophe. It took the Great Storm of 1900, which killed thousands of Galveston residents, to get a seawall constructed on the island; New Orleans’ failing levee system was not fixed until after Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people in 2005.  But the responsible thing to do is act now to protect our coastal region from future hurricanes, prevent loss of life, and costly damage to homes and businesses.  The economic losses from one major hurricane will more than pay for the coastal spine.

A dramatic new video, financed by the Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance (BACPA), notes the massively destructive hurricanes which have hit the upper Texas Gulf Coast since the Great Storm of 1900, a Category 4 storm that killed an estimated 8,000 people in Galveston, the deadliest hurricane disaster in U.S. history. The names of other hurricanes are all too familiar – Carla, 1961; Alicia, 1983; Rita, 2005; Ike, 2008. (The video presentation can be viewed here.)

 “The biggest killer in a hurricane is the surge. Probably three quarters of the total damages in a hurricane is due to storm surge,” said Craig Beskid, executive director of the East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA).   

A coastal spine would stop the storm surge at the coast and prevent it from devastating our inland waterways and the heavily populated communities throughout the region.

The video also introduced a remarkable interactive tool called the Coast Atlas, developed by the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at TAMUG, which is now available to anyone with an internet connection. The Coastal Atlas was developed so that coastal stakeholders could understand the impact of storm surge and flooding on property along the coast. Homeowners, businesses and developers can use the atlas to view relevant information about a specific location.

A Coastal Spine is needed to protect our industry and our communities. TCC will continue to work with local communities, legislators and stakeholders to represent our industry’s interest in the development of a coastal barrier system for the Texas Coast.

Don’t Miss the Texas/Louisiana EHS Seminar - June 6-9, 2016

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas.

The Texas Chemical Council (TCC) and Louisiana Chemical Association (LCA), along with ACIT and LCIA, are hosting the 28th annual Texas/Louisiana Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Seminar - June 6-9 at the Moody Gardens Hotel in Galveston, Texas. The EHS Seminar continues to grow through a strong partnership between Texas and Louisiana chemical manufacturers, suppliers, vendors and service providers.

The Texas/Louisiana EHS Seminar is the premier safety seminar on the Gulf Coast for chemical manufacturers and the many diverse companies that do business with them. This year’s event will showcase the most timely and relevant safety practices for chemical manufacturing site personnel as well as contractors and service providers.  There are more than 100 sessions that will appeal to plant managers, operators, safety and industrial hygiene professionals, process technicians, engineers, environmental managers, and security personnel. 

Leading-edge information designed for and by plant professionals fill five different tracks each day, including a new track on Human Factors on Wednesday, June 8th. Other tracks include occupational and process safety management, hazard recognition, emergency response, best practices and lessons learned, environmental compliance, emerging trends, as well as the return of our very popular “Plant Managers Roundtable” on Thursday.

There will also be speakers discussing Channel Industries Mutual Aid and how it provides emergency support to the Houston Ship Channel area; best practices in turnaround safety; the American Chemistry Council’s emerging trends in the chemical value chain; how to become a next level leadership communicator; the future of OSHA’s PSM Standard; and managing human error from site control rooms.

Industry Jubilee:
On Tuesday night, June 7th, we’ll be featuring our Industry Jubilee, a USO-themed reception and dinner taking place among the vintage aircraft at the Lone Star Flight Museum and featuring the WWII-era music of the Space City Big Band and feature performances by the Victory Belles, a World War II inspired musical act. The Lone Star Flight Museum is located adjacent to Moody Gardens Hotel and a shuttle will be provided from the Hotel for EHS attendees.  A special thanks to ACIT for underwriting this industry celebration and to our more than 400 ACIT member companies that are valued suppliers, vendors and contractors to the chemical industry.  It’s sure to be a great industry event.

Featured Keynote Speakers:
The Seminar also features four great keynote speakers that will share personal experiences, inspire and motivate attendees.  This year’s keynote speakers are:

•  Monday, June 6th :       Roby Plemons, Accident Survivor and Safety Speaker
•  Tuesday, June 7th :      Dale Brown, Former LSU Basketball Coach
•  Wednesday, June 8th:   Leonard Waterworth – Exec. Professor, Texas A&M Galveston
•  Thursday, June 9th:      Dan Borne’ – President, Louisiana Chemical Association

Industry Trade Show:
The Texas/Louisiana EHS Seminar features a sold-out Industry Trade Show featuring 150 exhibitors.  See the latest industrial technology, state-of-the-art equipment, safety apparel, and other services to industry professionals.  Don’t miss the Monday night welcoming reception featuring great food, libations, and music.

Continuing Education Credit:
The Seminar’s open format makes it possible for attendees to interact with industry experts, as well as federal and state regulators to exchange practical information on key emerging EHS issues. The Seminar also offers continuing education credits for the following accreditations:

  • American Board of Industrial Hygiene certificate maintenance credit – 16 hours
  • Board of Certified Safety Professionals – 2 Continuing Education Units
  • Texas Board of Professional Engineers – over 15 Professional Development Hours
  • Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists –over 5 Professional Development Hours


With 25 daily presentations in a multi-track format, four keynote speakers, three all-day training workshops, the Industry Jubilee, and a three-day industry trade show, this year’s Seminar is a “must attend” event if you work, do business with, or have an interest in the chemical, refining and process industries in Texas and Louisiana.

Register for the 2016 Environmental, Health, and Safety Seminar today by clicking here!

For more information on the EHS Seminar, please visit www.ehs-Seminar.com or contact TCC Education Director Robert Bennett at 512-646-6404.

President’s Message: Texas Primary Election is March 1st

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas.


The Texas Primary Election is on March 1st and early voting starts on February 16th.    Texans will have their opportunity to cast their vote for President as well as key Congressional seats, State Supreme Court Justices, and State legislative races.

For Republican presidential candidates, Texas is the biggest prize thus far in the primaries with 155 delegates up for grabs. Delegates must be proportionally divided if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. Likewise on the Democrat side, there are 252 delegates up for grabs between the Democratic presidential candidates.  The University of Houston will host a GOP presidential primary debate on February 25th hosted by CNN.

Presidential politics aside, we have other key primary races across Texas for state Senate, state House of Representatives, Railroad Commission, Texas Supreme Court, State Board of Education, and U.S. Congress. Click here for a full listing of all races and candidates.

We’d like to highlight key State Supreme Court races that are hotly contested. Several conservative incumbent Justices are being challenged and need our support:

   -  Justice Debra Lehrmann, Place 3
   -  Justice Paul Green, Place 5
   -  Justice Eva Guzman, Place 9

Supreme Court races are costly statewide races with limits on contributions, which makes it difficult for judges to raise enough money to education voters about their record.  

FREEPAC – the Texas Chemical Council / Association of Chemical Industry of Texas Political Action Committee – have endorsed the following state legislative candidates:

For Texas Senate – Senator Paul Bettencourt, Senator Larry Taylor, Representative Bryan Hughes, Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, and Senator Brian Birdwell.

For Texas House of Representatives – Speaker of the House Joe Straus, Representative Joe Deshotel, Representative Dennis Bonnen, Representative Geanie Morrison, Representative Todd Hunter, Representative Jim Murphy, Representative Dan Flynn, Representative Byron Cook, Representative Travis Clardy, Representative Kyle Kacal, Representative John Raney, Representative Paul Workman, Representative DeWayne Burns, Representative Ron Simmons, Representative Doug Miller, Representative John Frullo, Representative Charlie Geren, Representative Angie Chen Button, Representative Cindy Burkett, Representative Jason Villalba, and Representative Sarah Davis.

 “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We urge you not to deprive yourself of this important right.  Please exercise your right and privilege to vote and encourage your friends, family and co-workers to do the same!

Seven Proposed Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas.

This fall there are seven proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution on the ballot. They cover several different topics, all of which will only take effect if approved by Texas voters.

We have summarized each amendment, but please be advised that the ‘official’ ballot language will differ from these summaries. The Texas Secretary of State has a great website with additional information. There, you can locate polling places, get early voting dates (Oct. 19th through 30th), and even find detailed explanations of the ballot measures. Here are the proposed constitutional amendments:

Proposition 1 would increase the residential homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000, starting in 2015. For those 65 and over and individuals that are disabled, the amendment would also provide for a proportionate reduction. School districts would be held harmless from revenue loss by the state. In addition, school districts would be prohibited from reducing a homestead exemption adopted by the district until 2020. Lastly, the amendment would prohibit the creation of a transfer tax on real estate transactions.

Proposition 2 would extend an existing constitutional amendment ratified by voters in 2011. The amendment would exempt the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran, who died before 2011, from taxation on the market value of their residence homestead, as long as the surviving spouse has not remarried. Currently, this exemption only applies to those deaths occurring after 2011.

Proposition 3 would repeal the requirement that statewide elected officials must reside in Austin, Texas.  Under current law, statewide elected officers are required to reside in the capital city during the time of his or her service. The proposed amendment does not apply to the Governor.

Proposition 4 would allow a charitable foundation associated with a professional sports team (Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, or Major League Soccer) to conduct charitable raffles. Up to 50% of the proceeds may be used for a cash prize and the remainder for operating expenses and charitable purposes. This law applies to entities defined as professional sports team charitable foundations on January 1, 2016.

Proposition 5 would allow small counties (7,500 population) to construct and maintain private roads – as long as the county imposes a reasonable charge for the work.

Proposition 6 would add the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife to the Bill of Rights of the Texas Constitution. It would also establish hunting and fishing as the preferred method of managing and controlling wildlife in Texas.

Proposition 7 proposes a constitutional amendment to provide dedicated funds to the State Highway Fund (SHF) as follows:

(A) $2.5B of state sales and use tax that exceeds the first $28 billion collected during the fiscal year beginning in 2018;

(B) 35% of the tax imposed on the sale, use, or rental of a motor vehicle that exceeds the first $5 billion collected during the fiscal year beginning in 2020.

The money deposited to the SHF is intended for construction, maintenance, or acquiring right-of-way for public roadways other than toll roads; or to repay certain transportation-related debt.

Constitutional Amendments provide voters with an opportunity to make important statewide decisions.  We hope everyone will find time during early voting or on Election Day (Tuesday, November 3rd) to vote on these proposed amendments.

Record Attendance at the 28th Annual EHS Seminar & Trade Show

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas.

Thank you to all of our members who attended the 28th Annual Texas-Louisiana Environmental, Health, & Safety (EHS) Seminar and Trade Show. This year’s event saw record attendance with over 1100 participants and a very successful trade show.

The EHS Seminar is the premiere environmental, health, and safety seminar for the petrochemical industry and related industries. Our seminar is developed by industry safety professionals for industry safety professionals. Our mission is to provide education to foster personal growth and development for attendees and improve the performance of their organizations while enhancing the image of the chemical industry. This year’s Seminar featured 3 keynote speakers, 4 training courses, and 100 technical sessions with 107 speakers on a variety of topics including air, water, safety, health and wellness, security, PSM, energy, industrial incidents and emergency response. Our sessions and presenters got high marks from attendee evaluations and our exhibitors said it was a great show with quality leads.

Attendees had access to the latest safety training, regulatory insights, and industry best practices. They heard from some of the best and brightest safety experts in the country, learned about the latest products and services from nearly 140 exhibitors at our Industry Trade Show, and network with industry peers.

The Seminar also had great participation from government agencies, including: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).

As always, we thank our EHS Seminar Committee for putting together an outstanding Seminar this year.  A special thanks to Malinda Tange of INEOS Olefins & Polymers – Chocolate Bayou who chaired this years Seminar Committee. 

Thanks to everyone for a very successful 2015 EHS Seminar and Trade Show and we look forward to reaching even more industry professionals next year.

EPA Proposed Ozone Standard is Costly & Absurd

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it would pursue stricter federal standards for ground-level ozone. Today, the standard for compliance is 75 parts per billion (ppb). If EPA has its way, the new standard will be set between 65 ppb and 70 ppb, but the agency has said it will consider and take comments on a standard as low as 60 ppb.  EPA published its proposal in the Federal Register on December 17, and will be taking comments on the proposed standard for 90 days: through March 17, 2015. While the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to revisit the ozone standard every 5 years, a change is not mandated; and why would the EPA push the goal line further away when so many non-attainment areas have not yet met the current standard.
 
Meeting a new EPA ozone standard has broad implications for local communities and will impact economic development. At best, a new “non-attainment” designation for a community will result in costly planning and new burdensome regulatory requirements. Of greater concern, a new standard could stymie new investment opportunities and result in lost jobs and lost tax base.

There are currently 18 Texas counties in non-attainment that are above the 75 ppb standard.  These counties have seen costly regulatory requirements that impact our everyday lives, including speed limit reductions, restrictions on outdoor barbeque pits, restricted use of lawn-care equipment, and restrictions on recreational watercraft and other off-road vehicles.   Under a lower ozone standard of even 70 ppb, every major city in Texas would be in non-attainment. This classification would significantly limit new sources of emissions in the affected region, essentially hitting the pause button on our economy.

Consider for a moment a new report that highlights the sheer absurdity of what EPA is proposing. An investigation by the American Action Forum found that at least one hundred national and state parks would not meet a lower EPA ozone standard. Death Valley National Park, Sequoia National Park and Cape Cod National Seashore all have ozone readings between 71 and 87 ppb. Even an air monitor in the Wyoming portion of Yellowstone National Park yielded an ozone reading of 63 ppb. If carefully preserved national parks – with no industry and very few vehicles – can’t manage to meet EPA’s new ozone standard, what hope does a community have for any economic growth?

Enormous Cost
The EPA’s new ozone regulation could be the most expensive ever issued on the American public, costing the nation $270 - $360 billion annually. This regulation would not only impact the chemical industry, but could increase costs for households in Texas and result in 182,347 lost jobs, according to a new study by NERA Economic Consulting and commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers.

Cities, towns and rural areas across the United States would see reduced economic growth as unachievable permitting requirements prevent businesses from expanding or considering new operations. Local and state governments would have to impose costly new vehicle inspection programs that include an annual tailpipe emission test. Manufacturers would need to make technical and formula changes to their products and pay for replacement equipment.
These regulations could cost Texas hundreds of billions of dollars to reduce emissions to federally required levels. The EPA has identified only 52 percent of the controls needed to meet the standard. The remaining 48 percent of reductions would have to be met with unknown controls that the EPA has not yet identified but which would likely have to include early shutdowns and scrapping of existing manufacturing facilities, equipment and vehicles.

Moving Target
Across Texas and our nation, air quality continues to improve, and NOx emissions are already down nearly 60 percent nationwide since 1980, which, after adjusting for economic growth, implies a 90 percent reduction in emission rates since 1990 for NOx-emitting sources. Meanwhile, the existing 2008 ozone standard has not been achieved by the state’s non-attainment areas. It’s as if the referees are moving the goal line in the middle of the football game. With all the progress we’ve made and the recent economic recovery being seen in Texas and across the U.S., now is not the time to move the regulatory target— not at these costs.

The danger that Texas faces only underscores what is becoming more and more clear: that the EPA is not only setting U.S. environmental policy, but the agency is in fact impacting American economic policy.

By issuing standards that are impossible to meet and that have no measurable impact to human health and air quality, the EPA is over-reaching and jeopardizing our nation’s economic recovery.

By the numbers…
What Could New Ozone Regulations Cost Texas?
- $48 Billion Loss in Gross State Product from 2017 to 2040
- 182,347 Lost Jobs or Job Equivalents annually
- $113 Billion in Compliance Costs
- $970 Reduction in Average Household Consumption per Year
- $10 Billion increase for Residents to Own/Operate a personal Vehicle (2017 to 2040)
- 15 Percent increase in Residential Electricity Prices (National Average)
- 32 Percent increase in Residential Natural Gas Prices (National Average)
- Shutdown of 28 Percent of Texas’s Coal-Fired Electric Generating Capacity

Texas Legislature Studying Water Desalination

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas

The Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination recently held a series of hearings across the state, and the Texas Chemical Council was invited to provide testimony.

The joint interim committee, co-chaired by Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) and Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), held public hearings in Austin, Corpus Christi (with a special focus on ocean water desalination) and Wichita Falls (with special focus on brackish groundwater desalination). 

I testified before the committee in Austin and emphasized the chemical manufacturing industry’s dependence on water, and the importance of a sustainable source of water to protect our industry’s current and future investments and the economic benefits to the state. The current drought has wreaked havoc across our state and threatens the viability of billions in economic investment opportunities within our industry, as well as our state’s public water supply for the foreseeable future.

The chemical industry needs a sustainable supply of process water and has made significant strides in conservation, reuse and recycling. However, there have already been instances where member company facilities have been challenged in securing the water they are legally entitled to. As a result, our industry is very supportive of the state’s interest in looking across the spectrum of water technologies that might help ensure a sustainable water supply for our state’s growing population and thriving manufacturing sector.

Desalination involves the removal of salts and dissolved solids from saline water (brackish or seawater). In addition to the removal of minerals, the process removes most biological or organic chemical compounds. Most desalination processes are based either on thermal distillation or membrane separation technologies. A desalination plant essentially separates saline water into a stream with a low concentration of dissolved salts (the fresh water stream) and a stream containing the remaining dissolved salts (the concentrate or brine stream).

Desalination is a viable technology that is already in use within our industry, and there are numerous process technologies developed and used by our member companies for desalination and in their water treatment processes.

When considering industry as a water customer, it is important to note the vast majority of our water use is for cooling and heating purposes and does not require the same drinking water quality standards that exist for municipal drinking water supplies.

Therefore, stakeholders must understand industries may be looking for a cheaper alternative to that which may be needed for a municipal water supply. As the shale economy has created a manufacturing renaissance within our industry, an assured water supply is the common goal for all, and the chemical industry looks forward to working with the Texas Legislature to examine how desalination and other water strategies — like conservation, reuse, recycling and reducing evaporation — may be viable for both the state and industry. 



Meet the Chairman of the Board: DuPont’s Bobby Laughlin

In his more than 35-year career with just one company – E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) – recently elected Texas Chemical Council Board of Directors Chairman John R. “Bobby” Laughlin has held many roles throughout the company: plant operations, supply chain, corporate operations, and human resources management.

And through his time at DuPont, Laughlin has credited the company’s corporate culture to “create an environment for employees to thrive and be creative to meet objectives,” Laughlin said he wants our people to “enjoy coming to work” by creating an organization “where they see value in their role, both short term and long term and know they are making a difference in the world.”

A native Texan born and raised in Seguin, Laughlin received his Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Bobby began his career in 1978 with DuPont in Victoria. He was Plant Manager at DuPont’s Yerkes site in Buffalo (NY) for five years. Bobby returned to Texas in 2006 as Plant Manager at DuPont’s LaPorte site near Houston.

In 2010 he became Site Manager at DuPont’s Sabine River Works located in Orange, Texas and recently assumed the additional role of North American Operations Director for the DuPont Packaging and Industrial Polymers business.

Laughlin cites DuPont’s core values to strive toward perfect behavior in each of four areas: Safety & Health, Environmental Stewardship, Respect for People, and Highest Ethical Standards.

He also credits a culture of constant communications to manage their business and share the company vision through, 1) shift start and daily morning cross functional meetings, 2) annual safety kickoffs as well as monthly safety meetings, and 3) monthly updates of unit and business performance.  In addition Laughlin meets several times a month with differing groups of 10 employees from around the site to “understand what is working well, understand concerns, and share information so they can better understand our complex business and see how the products we produce help make people’s lives better, safer, and healthier,” said Laughlin. 

Bobby previously served as Chair of the Texas Chemical Council’s Occupational Safety Committee for several years, and credits this time as “having been very rewarding and helpful to interact with my industry peers,” he said.

“I like the concept of a group of industry professionals coming together from plants across Texas to improve our industry’s safety performance to new levels through sharing of best practices,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin said he is also proud of the growth of TCC/ACIT Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Seminar. “It’s profoundly impactful to drive industry to better and better outcomes,” he said, “and I’m proud of my peers… especially the increased participation by plant managers.”

Several years ago, EHS Seminar organizers recognized that more site leaders needed to attend, so they began offering a free day for all plant managers to attend. Ever since, attendance has grown substantially.  A plant manager’s track was started last year so that managers can learn from the experiences of their peers.

“And, the EHS Award ceremony is always a delight to see industry recognize outstanding performance,” Laughlin said, “especially for our industry’s very complex plants with highly-hazardous operations.

Laughlin also serves on the University of Texas Chemical Engineering External Advisory Council. And locally, he serves on the Orange County United Way Board of Directors and the Lutcher Theater Board of Directors.

“It’s so important to work with outside groups in the community,” he said, “so that employees understand how fortunate we are and the needs of others.” Laughlin is passionate about serving on the Lutcher Theater board because attracting talent for industry often means helping make communities robust in culture, not just outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.

Another key community partnership for Laughlin is his company’s work in support of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) by partnering with schools through the DuPont Science SuperStars Program, which served more than 3,000 elementary students in 2013 alone.

The Science SuperStars Program, led by outstanding science educator Michael Hoke, provides training in science concepts and presentation techniques to 8th grade students from local schools. After being qualified as “Science SuperStars”, the students then present hands-on science shows to elementary students in the area, as well as to local community groups. Additionally, the Program provides opportunities for middle school and elementary school teachers to improve their understanding of science concepts and presentation of the concepts.

Laughlin said, “It’s so important to plant the seeds – early on – that science is fun.” Getting young students wanting to do well, then “to connect the concept of science with future careers.”

Bobby and his wife Karen, who is also a graduate of the University of Texas and is a pharmacist, have two children. Their daughter Devon will graduate from Drexel University in Philadelphia this spring and will be start medical school this fall. Their son Sean is attending the University of Texas at Austin studying Aerospace Engineering.

Laughlin said it’s “it’s important to put family first as well as finding time for theater, entertainment, and golf. Karen and I really enjoy the Mardi Gras Krewe we belong to and doing community service activities with them.”

Now that both kids have gone off to college, Laughlin said that finding the right balance with work and family can be a challenge, “especially when you truly enjoy your work,” he said.

SBOE: Maintain Flexibility in High School Graduation Plans

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas

During the 2013 Texas legislative session, lawmakers passed a landmark education law — House Bill 5 (HB 5) — that will provide more course flexibility to high school students, allowing for more dual credit classes and career and technology education (CTE). Rather than a “one-size-fits-all” education system, students can pursue their individual interests, have a more relevant education and a head start on the skills in demand in our industries.
 The Texas Chemical Council (TCC) and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas were strong advocates of the reforms in HB 5. In fact, TCC led a broad coalition of business groups — the Jobs for Texas Coalition, which represents 22 trade associations, 300,000 individual businesses and more than 6 million jobs — in support of HB 5’s passage.

For years, businesses in our industry have been struggling to find qualified, skilled professionals. An aging work force and demand from the new shale gas discoveries and subsequent economic boom have exacerbated the shortage of available tradesmen.

HB 5 made substantial changes to the state’s graduation requirements, moving from the current “4x4” graduation plans to a 22-credit Foundation High School Program that allows students to earn endorsements in specific areas of study by completing four additional credits.

Now it’s the job of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) to implement rules dealing with graduation requirements and determine the requirements for each endorsement area: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); business and industry; public service; arts and humanities; and multidisciplinary studies.

SBOE must develop the curriculum and class requirements for each endorsement by the 2014-2015 school year so local school districts are offering enough courses to satisfy the requirements.

The first step in the rulemaking process was a public hearing in September, followed by Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff drafting a proposed rule to be considered at the SBOE November meeting. If the rules receive preliminary approval, there will be a 30-day public comment period. If they remain on schedule, rules could be adopted by January.

We urge the 15 members of the SBOE to follow the clear legislative intent of the Texas Legislature to provide the much-needed flexibility in both graduation plans and endorsements. SBOE should not create rules that are so prescriptive they prevent local school districts from tailoring courses and graduation plans to meet individual interests and the work force needs of their community.

We want to remind the SBOE excellent courses already exist for several endorsements through internationally recognized certification programs. SBOE should utilize these existing courses developed within industries — accreditation programs like NCCER, MSSC (Manufacturing Skills Standard Council), ISO (International Standards Organization) and many others. Students can then benefit by earning not only high school and college credit but also credit toward certificates recognized and sought after by multiple industries across Texas, the United States and the world.

We encourage industry individuals to contact their SBOE members and ask them to maintain the necessary flexibility in graduation plans and endorsements, allowing school districts to identify courses that meet work force needs. Urge them to utilize courses found in several internationally recognized certificate programs and offered at community and junior colleges across the state. Send an email to all SBOE members at sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us.

Another exciting part of the new law is local school districts may create new career-oriented, for-credit courses without first getting approval from the SBOE. We encourage industry to open a dialogue with local school districts and institutions of higher learning to develop, design and approve courses that can be taught in high school and help prepare students for post-secondary education and/or the work force.

If industry is going to manage its future work force needs, we must work with educators in our local communities to develop relevant courses that prepare students for success.

For more information, visit TCC or ACIT at www.txchemcouncil.org or www.acit.org, or call (512) 646-6400.


Executive Order Calls for Information Sharing, Best Practices

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas

A few months after a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, President Barack Obama has signed an executive order that aims at increasing safety and oversight of chemical plants across the country. In a series of measures, various federal, state and local agencies would share more information and look for best practices to reduce risks from facilities like the West Fertilizer Co. plant.

The chemical industry welcomes the president’s executive order because it’s an opportunity to share information and best practices between regulatory agencies and manufacturers to ensure the public’s safety around large and small facilities. Additionally, the executive order can help to identify and clarify overlapping regulatory oversight by different agencies.

The president’s action came as witnesses told a U.S. House subcommittee recently that chemical manufacturers and regulatory agencies are making strides to improve safety and security in the chemical workplace and surrounding communities. President Obama acknowledged in his order the federal government already has developed and implemented numerous programs aimed at reducing the safety risks and security risks associated with hazardous chemicals. “However, additional measures can be taken by executive departments and agencies with regulatory authority to further improve chemical facility safety and security in coordination with owners and operators,” he said.

The explosion in April at the West Fertilizer Co. plant took 15 lives and destroyed hundreds of homes and a public school. While the origin of the fire that led to the explosion has still not been determined, investigators have said it was ammonium nitrate stored at the plant that exploded. Among several issues believed to have been a factor in the fire and explosion are the facts the facility had stored the chemical in wood buildings and had no sprinklers.

Many of those killed in the explosion were first responders, who rushed toward the plant to fight the fire after it ignited. The executive order calls for improving coordination with local governments and first responders, and to ensure first responders have “ready access to key information in a usable format” about chemical facilities.

In April, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Infrastructure Safety Compliance Division has assigned about 3,500 high-risk chemical plants to risk-based tiers since 2007. But its approach does not consider all consequences, threats and vulnerabilities from a terrorist attack, according to GAO Homeland Security and Justice Director Stephen L. Caldwell. The Infrastructure Safety Compliance Division has begun to review its security plan review process, which could take years, but the division is examining how it could accelerate that process.

Federal regulation under DHS’ Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards has made significant progress in the past year, according to DHS Infrastructure Safety Compliance Division Director David Wulf. “We feel strongly our private sector partners are key to our efforts to enhance data sharing, increase cross-training and identify areas for possible regulatory changes, as well as identifying possible gaps in existing statutory authorities,” he said. “Since the West, Texas, tragedy, we have engaged with numerous members of industry and all have agreed we must work together to prevent future incidents. Industry has offered to spread our message and do [its] part to promote safety and security at chemical facilities.”

It’s important to note much of the chemical industry already has an aggressive safety culture, but we must make sure all plants and facilities are sharing best practices and participating in local emergency planning committees.

There are regulations in place at both the state and federal levels that require the submission of data relative to chemicals of interest and quantities on site that would have identified the West facility as a potentially high-risk site. Agencies should have the appropriate tools to effectively train its field inspectors, educate the regulated community and enforce existing regulations.

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