Judge to RadWaste Commission: ‘Not So Fast’

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Opponents of Harold Simmons’ West Texas radioactive waste empire got a last-minute reprieve today. Austin Judge Jon Wisser ordered a temporary halt to rules that could make Texas the radioactive waste dump for the nation.

The obscure Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission – a body consisting of six Perry appointees and two members from Vermont – had planned to vote on import rules on January 4th. Those rules would create a process for importing radioactive waste from at least 36 states that currently don’t have a place to bury their waste.

But Wisser agreed with Public Citizen and the Texas Civil Rights Project that the compact commission would violate Texas law by meeting in early January. That’s because the commission goofed on providing the public with a chance to comment on the rules. The email address for submitting comments was defective, causing some emails to bounce back to the sender. Also, Wisser found, the barely-staffed commission hadn’t given itself enough time to respond to the 4,000-plus comments it did receive. (The comment period closed on December 26th, the day after Christmas.)

Dump opponents have accused the commission chairman, Michael Ford, of rushing the rules. Here’s how: Texas’ partner in the compact is the state of Vermont. Under the 16-year-old compact, Texas agrees to take Vermont’s nuclear waste. Any other state or entity outside the Teaxs-Vermont Compact must petition the commission to send its waste to Texas. However, Vermont has an incoming governor, Peter Shumlin, who is not too crazy about the idea of opening the West Texas dump to other states. Shumlin will likely appoint members to the Texas-Vermont Compact who are much less favorable to allowing other states to dump at the West Texas site.

Here‘s the New York Times on the issue:

The commission has scheduled a vote for Jan. 4, two days before Mr. Shumlin is scheduled to take office in Montpelier. Mr. Shumlin opposes the policy; he has expressed worry that if waste from other states is allowed in, there might not be enough space left for Vermont, especially since he is calling for the shutdown of Vermont’s only nuclear reactor, Vermont Yankee. Tearing it down will generate substantial nuclear waste that will require burial somewhere.

The temporary restraining order is good for 14 days.

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.