Harold Simmons Wins Another Favor from the Lege

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Waste Control site
WCS

Every legislative session, Harold Simmons’ radioactive waste dump company comes to the Legislature with a new favor to ask. Every session Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat with a peace activist pedigree, puts up a spirited protest. And every session, Simmons—one of the state’s most generous GOP donors—pretty much gets what he wants. This time was no different.

Yesterday, Burnam won a temporary victory when he knocked down Senate Bill 791 on a technicality. Among other changes, SB 791 would’ve allowed Waste Control Specialists to bring “hotter” (read: more radioactive) waste from out of state. But today, West Texas lawmakers tacked similar provisions onto a related radioactive waste bill. The legislation, SB 347, sailed through on  131-12 vote. The House rejected Burnam’s attempts to require auditing of the radioactive waste shipments as well as requirements to beef up monitoring for water at the site.

Burnam repeatedly referred to the legislation as the “biggest vendor bill” this session—a reference to the considerable political and economic muscle that Simmons brings to the table.

“Have you been listening?,” Burnam said to the House. “I’ve been saying for over a decade that this vendor is going to walk away from this facility as soon as they’ve made as much money as they think they can make … and the state of Texas will be economically liable for the contamination and the leaks and the improper disposal.”

He reminded his colleagues that three Texas Commission on Environmental Quality staffers had quit in protest when their superiors gave Waste Control a permit over their objections. A team of engineers and geologists had unanimously determined that the dump is dangerously close to water tables.

But Rep. Tryon Lewis, a West Texas Republican and the House sponsor of SB 347, said the dump is safe. “This site is about as secured and monitored as about any site you can imagine in this country,” Lewis said.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • browningtx

    Andrews County residents get suckered again. Short term gain for long term pain. And other articles I’ve seen in past years note that their neighbors just to the west in New Mexico are not happy about this. PS: Houston Regional Group of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter presented the author, Forrest Wilder, our first Environmental Justice Reporting award earlier this year. Thank you, Forrest!

  • browningtx

    Texas Observer continues to give us good reporting, which all too often includes sad news. The good citizens of Andrews County, Texas get suckered again. Short term gain for long term pain. Articles I’ve seen in past years note that their neighbors just to the west in New Mexico are none to pleased about this, but have nothing to say about it. EPA, where are you?

    PS: Houston Regional Group of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter presented the author, Forrest Wilder, our first Environmental Justice Reporting award earlier this year. Thank you, Forrest!

  • browningtx

    Please remove my previous comment which seems to have become signed “Guest” although I was logged in as myself, and deleted it as a first draft, replacing with the ‘better’ version below. I am willing to sign the ‘better’ one as Art Browning, Cypress, TX. (Long-time print subscriber)