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Glow West: TCEQ blesses Andrews nuke dump


Bury my radioactive heart slightly upgradient of Windmill Hill.

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

Denying a request for further study of a radioactive waste repository in the lower Panhandle before opening it for full-fledged dumping, two of three Texas Council for Environmental Quality commissioners gave final approval yesterday for Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons’ company Waste Control Specialists to start receiving low-level radioactive wastes from the federal government and states of Vermont and Texas for permanent disposal.

casks for fernald, ohio wasteCommissioners denied a request by the state Sierra Club chapter for a contested case hearing that would have required further study of the site’s geological characteristics.

Commissioner Larry Soward abstained from voting, and the TCEQ’s Office of Public Interest Counsel recommended against approving the license to dispose of 28 million cubic feet of waste in westernmost Andrews County close to the New Mexico state line.

The Commissioners’ chamber was reportedly packed with about 150 Permian Basin-based dump supporters wearing green T-shirts. No one spoke in opposition to the permit, partially because residents of neighboring Eunice, New Mexico, are not allowed standing under state law.

Rose Gardner, a resident of Eunice, New Mexico and a Sierra Club member, said that her flower shop, general feed store, crops, animals and health will now be at risk from the site.

“While many people in Andrews County support this dangerous venture, it is the people of Eunice, New Mexico who will be impacted by depressed real estate prices and sales,” Gardner was quoted as saying in a Sierra Club press release.

The Andrews County dump, first proposed nearly a decade ago after state efforts to open a disposal site for low-level wastes from Texas, Maine, and Vermont were called into question by the Texas Legislature after years of failed attempts to open a site in Sierra Blanca failed, largely due to heavy opposition from local and regional residents. Maine left the compact in 2002 to save taxpayers there $25 million it would otherwise pay to Texas for continued membership.

Here's a few observations I made when preliminary approval was granted in May:

Former staffer in the radioactive materials division of TCEQ, Glenn Lewis, said that he assisted in characterizing the site for four years while the permit application went through "at least" 14 revisions.

Despite his group's finding that the site was unsuitable, and the two largest Notice of Deficiencies ever issued by the agency, Lewis said "there was the expectation clearly communicated four years ago that these licenses would ultimately be granted."

"Once it became clear that the geology was deficient … that the site was so profoundly deficient, we thought somehow that would be the stake through the heart."

Geologist Pat Bobeck resigned from the agency in protest.

"The application contained inconsistencies and contradictions and a lack of detailed geologic data," Bobeck said in a Sierra Club press release issued this afternoon. "There is water there in that clay and in the siltstone and water is going to move that waste around. It's going to cause problems and there's no way around that."

Perry-appointed TCEQ Commish's voted 2-1 to deny a requested contested case hearing and approved a radioactive waste dump that at least one former inspector says will sit just 14 feet above groundwater supplies. It is unclear at this point if that water is connected to the Ogallala — the nation's largest freshwater aquifer.

Among the wastes to be buried will include some of the hottest of so-called "low-level" waste mined in the Belgian Congo and stored for many years in Fernald, Ohio.

Strange, this location's suitability was questioned 10 years ago and we still don't know definitively if it is sitting on the nation's largest freshwater aquifer.

Here's something I wrote for the Odessa American at the time:

A study released by the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology shows the geology of western Andrews County may be unsuitable for radioactive waste disposal.

The report, released late last month and made public Tuesday, said the Ogallala aquifer is located beneath land owned by Envirocare of Texas and may also lie beneath Waste Control Specialists’ hazardous and low-level radioactive storage facility.

Finally, (not that there's anything wrong with paying politicians!) a few notes about  Simmons' considerable political contributions ($3.8 million since 2000, says the Morning News) as told by Queque:

Simmons’ contributions this year have included $50,000 to Attorney General Greg Abbott; $30,000 to the state Repub Party; $5K to our Railroad Commissioner; another $5K apiece to Supreme Court Justices Don Willet and Dale Wainwright; and liberal pours across the board of under $2,500 that we don’t have time or patience to sort out.

Now Queque doesn’t pretend to understand campaign-finance laws or why a waste-company man would so prefer the elephantine party (Is it for the same reason smaller men buy Hummers?). In 2006, $559,600 of $570,000 went to Repubs, according to data maintained by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

If I left anything out, you can find a little more on radioactive waste in Andrews, at RadTexas.org.

Should you be in anyways peeved about this situation, I would recommend you contact any of the fine groups working to reverse this decision, which, in this case, would be the Texas Sierra Club chapter.

Posted by gharman on 1/15/2009 4:36:18 PM
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