Friday, May 31, 2013

Refining priorities

As a reporter in Baton Rouge, I frequently covered this refinery. The people there were always friendly and accessible, even when coverage was critical. 

One day I visited the refinery along with other local journalists to witness some construction. We took a shuttle van to and from the front gate. On our way out, security stopped the van and was threatening to write tickets for all of us inside. The reason: most of us weren't wearing seat belts. I'm the most militant of belt wearers, but I'll admit I hadn't searched too hard for the elusive restraint in a packed shuttle van that was driving us a few hundred feet at most. The driver eventually talked the officers out of it, but we were told that such enforcement was part of the plant's "culture of safety." I'd heard those words throughout my visit that day, and had to meet lots of safety and ID requirements to enter.

That's entirely understandable and commendable. But if what NPR is reporting is correct, then the safety priorities are askew. Enforcement, to some degree, seems based on economics rather than urgency. If the refinery is quick to crack down on shuttle van violations, then it should be at least as equally diligent in fixing equipment failures that poison the environment around it. At least.

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