Harris County may head to court to try and shutdown KMCO plant

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Ruby's barber shop is less than a mile from the KMCO plant in Crosby. Wednesday, it's business as usual a day after the explosion.

"We felt it when it happened. This building rocked and we saw the smoke immediately, but we didn't have any effects," said Annette Jolly.

Customers here are forgiving, even sympathetic to KMCO, including its history of environmental violations.

'We don't want to overreact and we want to help them in whatever we do," said customer Jeremy Morgan.

But that's not the opinion shared by Rock Owens, the managing environmental attorney for Harris County. He has an active case against the plant, even before the explosion.

"It's a plant that's like a lot of them out there, where they defer maintenance to maximize their profits," said Owens.

Owens would like to get a court to shut down the plant, but he may be stymied by the Texas Attorney General, who filed a lawsuit just hours after the explosion.

Owens said it's an effort to wrestle local control and enforcement away from Harris County officials.

"The state does not have a presence in Harris County, it does not understand Harris County, and I'm sorry the A.G.'s office does not have a track record of working cases in Harris County until now," said Owens.

Owens says he worries that state officials, who have a history of being industry friendly, will stymie the county attorney's efforts to close the plant, which judging by reaction at the barber shop, may be a hard sell.

"Mistakes happen, they support the community," said Morgan.

KMCO released the following statement Wednesday about the company's environmental record:

KMCO, LLC acquired the Crosby facility in 2012. Therefore, KMCO, LLC did not own or operate the Crosby facility and is not responsible for any historic incidents or violations that occurred prior to 2012, including those that were fully adjudicated in 2016.

After the acquisition, KMCO, LLC's new owners recruited a new management team in 2015 that dramatically accelerated the process of transforming the company by investing tens of millions in new capital and re-investing ongoing profits in people, processes, policies, and facility upgrades to safeguard our employees and the community, as well as the integrity and sustainability of our business.

Mr. Foley stated: "Ironically, the best fact-check of our company's commitment to fully safe and compliant operations is the fact that we self-reported all the violations and reportable incidents that we discovered after we took control of the facility. We did the right thing and the government fined us for it. But we remain committed to doing what's right regardless of cost."

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