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Federal Judge’s Green Light on Nuclear Waste Dump Is Bad News for Texans

Jan. 3, 2011

Federal Judge’s Green Light on
Nuclear Waste Dump  Is Bad News for Texans

More Than 6,200 Citizens Flooded Texas Radioactive Waste Commission
With Comments, Concerns About Expansion of Waste Dump

AUSTIN – A federal judge’s decision today to allow a state agency to move forward with a plan to open a Texas dump to radioactive waste from at least 36 states is bad news for Texans.

After a lengthy hearing, Judge Sam Sparks of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas voided a Dec. 30 temporary restraining order issued by a state court in Austin. That order would have kept the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC) from voting Tuesday on a plan to allow a low-level waste dump near Andrews Texas to take radioactive waste from 36 or more states.

While Sparks expressed concern about citizens’ ability to participate in this process, he said neither his court nor the state court had jurisdiction at this point in the process, and he dismissed the case, allowing the vote on implementing rules to go forward tomorrow.

More than 6,200 citizens flooded state officials with comments and concerns over the Christmas holiday weekend because they were concerned with the proposal to allow the shipment of radioactive waste from 36 states into Texas. However, the email address for comments was listed incorrectly in the Texas Register.

A state judge last week issued a restraining order based on concerns by Public Citizen and the Texas Civil Rights Project that because the email address was wrong, it is likely that comments from many people “bounced back” and were not delivered to the commission. In addition, the comment period was illegally shortened – the last day for comments to be submitted was a federal postal holiday, and state law requires that the comment period be extended to the next day after a weekend or holiday. An “official” posting of an incorrect email address denied Texans the right to petition state government and for their comments to be heard as guaranteed under the state constitution and the state’s open meeting act.

“We are outraged that a federal court has dissolved the temporary restraining order. Once again, the federal courts have denied Texan’s rights to participate in decisions made by their government,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.

“The public response over the holidays clearly shows that the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission needs to slow the process down so it can carefully consider all the public feedback,” Smith said. “Despite today’s ruling, the commission should postpone any hearing on these rules so it can properly address the potential loss of comments due to the error in the Texas Register posting.”

Currently, only radioactive waste from Vermont may be shipped to the dump. Before allowing waste from other states, Texas law requires that the commission make a reasonable attempt to consider all public comments. It’s unlikely the commission could do that in time for its Jan. 4 meeting, Smith said.

While routes are not yet designated, potential transportation routes would take nuclear waste from the Gulf Coast area on Interstate 10 through Houston and San Antonio; waste from southern states would be trucked on I-20 and I-30 though Dallas and Forth Worth; Midwestern and Northeastern waste would be driven on I-40 and I-27 though Lubbock and Amarillo; and waste from Western states would be driven though the cities of El Paso and Odessa taking I-10 and I-20, according to Martin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management Associates.  

The proposed dump would be operated by Waste Control Specialists (WCS), which is owned by Harold Simmons, a politically powerful Republican who helped bankroll the Swift Boat attacks on Sen. John Kerry and who, according to Texans for Public Justice, has given Texas Gov. Rick Perry $1.12 million over the past decade, including $500,000 in 2010, making Simmons the No. 2 all-time individual donor to the governor.

 The commission proposed rules earlier in 2010 for such an expansion but withdrew them after receiving more than 3,000 comments from the public, most of them adamantly opposed to importation. On Nov. 3, the morning after the elections, the commission announced the rules would be re-posted with only minor changes.

At a Dec. 15 hearing of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, several members of the legislature questioned TLLRWDCC chair, Michael Ford, about the proposed rules, expressing concern that this action was counter to the intent of the legislation that created the compact and was being pushed through without legislative oversight. Nevertheless, the compact commission scheduled a hearing on the rules for Tuesday, just eight days before the Texas Legislature is scheduled to begin its 82nd session and one day after many return from the New Year’s holiday.

 “Commissioners thought they could slip these new rules through under cover of the holidays, but more than 6,200 Texans have just told them, ‘not so fast,’ ” said Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition. “The commission should postpone consideration of these rules until both the Texas and Vermont legislatures – and the incoming Vermont governor – can consider the matter. Building a national nuclear waste dump in Texas violates the intent of the original Texas-Vermont agreement and raises a host of serious safety concerns that lawmakers need to consider.”

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