La. senator files bills to address alert systems after ExxonMobil refinery fire

Sen. Cleo Fields to present bills to address alert systems after fire at ExxonMobil refinery

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - La. Senator Cleo Fields has filed a number of bills in response to February’s fire at the ExxonMobil refinery in north Baton Rouge.

Fields spoke to neighbors who live nearby the plant at a community meeting recently, saying he was looking at writing legislation to improve how statewide emergency notifications are dispersed after a number of people claim they never got an alert from Exxon about what was going on after the blaze.

“People need to know as quickly as they can so they can make decisions on their own and not be governed by what they make think is in the interest or not of us,” said one resident at the meeting.

State Senator Cleo Fields, District 14, was at that meeting to see what the public would like lawmakers to do.

“Why would a citizen have to wait an hour, 50 minutes, or 43 minutes to know that a fire has taken place on a chemical plant? I mean, why not let them know immediately?” Sen. Fields asked.

One of the bills he's proposing requires the industry to notify the government within minutes of an emergency.

“When a fire takes place in the industry, they have up to 15 minutes to notify,” said Sen. Fields.

Another bill would require air monitoring systems to be placed on-site in some facilities.

“We need to make absolutely certain that the air people breathe in this state is quality air, and the only way to do that is by monitoring what is emitted into the air,” said Sen. Fields.

The other two bills involve increasing penalties for violating laws and the Environmental Quality Act.

But the lawmaker says alerting residents and officials in a timely manner is a good start.

"Look, industry is here and they create jobs and we need them. Let’s be clear, this is not an anti-industry legislation. This is in fact, pro-industry, pro-people, pro-environment, pro-state.

“I want the government to have real time information when chemicals hit the air,” said Sen. Fields.

To put this into perspective, there have been 1,120 bills filed ahead of this legislative session, which starts March 9. In 2019, only 448 bills became law out of the 850 bills that were filed.

WAFB reached out to ExxonMobil about these bills being filed, but has not heard back yet.

However, Gregory M. Bower, President and CEO of LCA/LCIA, said. “I have met with Senator Fields and others on multiple occasions to discuss these pieces of legislation and I will continue to talk and meet with them throughout the legislative session. The current status of the bills leaves us with many concerns, and we feel like they are not the proper avenue to finding a reasonable solution to his issues. Louisiana’s chemical industry takes extreme measures to ensure the safety of its employees and neighbors. Current protocols are in place for a reason and forcing drastic changes on those procedures in an overreaction can have negative impacts on both the safety of the employees at the facility and the citizens living in the surrounding neighborhood.”

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