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Citizen advocates say Texas is rushing to expand radioactive waste dump

January 4th, 2011

(Update, Jan. 5, 2011: After several hours of deliberating and hearing public comments the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission voted 5-2 for a new rule that will allow the waste dump west of Andrews to accept radioactive material from up to 36 other states.) From Green Right Now Reports Public advocacy groups say that Texas' push to allow a nuclear waste dump to accept radioactive material from across the United States is ignoring thousands of citizens who have raised concerns about the West Texas facility. Yesterday, a federal judge cleared a major obstacle for the dump by voiding a temporary restraining order issued last week by a state court. With the restraining order removed, the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC) is free to vote on a plan to allow the waste dump near Andrews, Texas to take in low-level radioactive waste from dozens of states. Many expect the commission, whose members have been appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, will allow the dump to expand its operations. Currently, the facility, which is owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, a major contributor to Perry, is only allowed to take in radioactive waste from Vermont and Texas. Texas Public Citizen maintains that 6,200 residents "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." But many of those comments may not have made it to their destination because the email for comments was incorrectly listed in the Texas Register, the group reported in a news release Tuesday. "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," said Public Citizen of Texas director Tom "Smitty" Smith. "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." The state court had issued its restraining order after Public Citizen and the Texas Civil Rights Project complained about the incorrect email address for citizen complaints. The groups told the court that comments from many people had "bounced back" and did not get delivered to the Radioactive Waste Disposal Commission. The advocacy groups also complained that the comment period had been illegally shortened by a day because of the federal holiday before Christmas. [caption id="attachment_26686" align="alignleft" width="197" caption="Opponents of expanding the radioactive waste facility say the waste could infiltrate groundwater or endanger Texans as radioactive material is trucked into the state. "][/caption] Citizens are guaranteed the right to register comments under the state constitution and the state’s open meeting act, group representatives said. "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," Smith said. Harold Simmons has given Texas Gov. Rick Perry $1.12 million over the past decade, including $500,000 in 2010, which makes him the governor’s second largest individual donor after Houston homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation), according to Texans for Public Justice. The Radioactive Waste Disposal Commission considered new rules for the dump earlier in 2010, but withdrew the plan in the face of 3,000 public comments, most opposed to expanding the facility. The commission re-opened the issue, posting public notice of a new set of rules, altered from the first but still allowing importation of nuclear waste from around the country, in November. "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 (SEED). "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." Under the dump compact, Texas and Vermont share access to the facility, which is owned by Waste Control Specialists, a company based in Dallas. Hadden says that the coalition fears the nuclear waste will contaminate water, because other nuclear waste facilities have experienced leakage. The new rules would allow nearly 20 times as much waste compared with what is currently planned for the dump, she told Waste Management World. The waste dump is west of Andrews, near the New Mexico border. The civil rights organizations said one concern is that radioactive waste from around the country will be trucked in through all of Texas' major urban centers, on Interstates 10, 20, 30 and 40 -- taking it through Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, Amarillo and other cities. For more information on the opposition to the dump expansion, see:
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