Nuclear Waste Disposal Funding Jeopardized in Texas
TCEQ Postpones Vote to Reduce Disposal Fee
AUSTIN, TX. – The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Wednesday postponed a decision that could allow Waste Control Specialists (WCS), the operator of a nuclear waste dump in Andrews County, to reduce certain disposal fees from 40 cents per unit of radioactivity to just five cents.
The rule was set for passage today with no stakeholder meetings, written comments, or requests for an administrative hearing. TCEQ commissioners delayed action until July 15 after hearing objections from the public, Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini and TCEQ Public Interest Counsel Vic McWherter.
WCS argued that it needs fee flexibility to stay competitive. But the company is the only waste disposer of its kind with the ability to accept Class A, B, and C waste. It’s closest competitor, Energy Solutions in Clive, Utah, accepts only Class A waste.
Texas taxpayers have assumed massive liability by allowing nuclear waste disposal in the state. Past handouts have allowed WCS to operate without posting adequate financial protection to cover the cost of disasters. The company has failed to make a profit from waste disposal in Texas in the past.
WCS offered several unpersuasive arguments on Wednesday, including that all Class B and C wastes could be “downblended” to Class A, and that the alternative to its proposed 87.5 percent fee reduction was that WCS would receive zero business nationwide. This seems unlikely.
It all adds up to financial risk to the state. If WCS can charge lower prices for waste disposal, there will be less revenue coming into Texas. TCEQ should withdraw the proposal or vote no on the rulemaking, Public Citizen demanded.
“We appreciate the TCEQ stepping back from this hasty action today,” said Adrian Shelley, Texas office director for Public Citizen. “It’s unclear who benefits when WCS collects even less money to dump nuclear waste in Texas. We’re worried that Texas taxpayers will be on the hook if WCS causes an accident it cannot clean up.”
During the 2019 legislative session, the Texas House and Senate rejected legislation to modify WCS’s agreement with the state. After one such proposal was sneaked into an unrelated domestic violence bill, Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the legislation. Abbott expressed frustration with the company’s tactics at the time, saying in a tweet: “Some people want to make Texas the radioactive waste dumping ground of America. I won’t let that happen.”
Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition, noted that while WCS wants to reduce rates because of competition, it does not appear that there is any competition for the job.
“WCS’ website claims that the company has the only U.S. site licensed to take Class A, B and C waste, so with no real competition, why should they reduce rates, which results in less money to the state?,” Hadden said. “Large volumes of waste may be headed our way soon as huge nuclear reactors start decommissioning.
“A rate reduction is a bad idea because it would result in less revenue going to the State of Texas for clean-up of radioactive contamination,” Hadden added. “WCS is already involved in decommissioning nuclear reactors as part of NorthStar Group. Is the rate change actually designed to benefit decommissioning companies?”