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Radioactive Waste Commission Punts

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After two days of often-contentious hearings, the compact commission postponed a decision on rules governing the import and export of radioactive waste to and from Texas. 

The decision to put the vote off for 30 days came this afternoon after dump opponents as well as two commissioners, Bob Gregory and Robert Wilson, expressed concern that the rules were being rushed.

For those of you just tuning in, the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (try to say that all in one breath) is beginning to tackle the contentious issue of whether to allow Waste Control Specialists, a politically-connected company building a large radioactive waste dump near Andrews, to import radioactive waste from other states.

(Texas and Vermont are the only two states that have an automatic right to bury their radioactive waste at the Andrews dump.)

As commission chairman Michael Ford pointed out they’re only at the point of figuring out how that process will work; decisions about particular import petitions will be made at a later date. Still, Waste Control is eager to speed the process along, telling the commission today and yesterday that the financial survival of the company is at stake.

On the other hand, dump opponent Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, blasted the proposed language as “an open-ended invitation” to bury waste from around the nation.

Glenn Lewis, a former TCEQ employee, was even more expansive. “I would be reticent, I would be hesitant, I would be circumspect about allowing anyone to put radioactive waste in that hole,” he said. “It will leak.”

Lewis was one of several TCEQ employees who quit the agency over the upper management’s decision to issue licenses to Waste Control. As Lewis testified, the technical team reviewing Waste Control’s proposed site had concluded that the dump was perilously close to two water tables and was highly likely to leak.

But criticism from Commissioner Wilson was perhaps more unexpected.

Wilson said that comments made yesterday by Waste Control Specialists CEO Rod Baltzer that the Andrews dump was a “national solution” had upset him.

“I’m not at all sure that the state of Texas… bargained for that in 1993,” said Wilson, referring to the year that the Texas-Vermont compact law was passed.

Indeed, Waste Control is already proposing to increase the capacity of the compact portion of their dump almost five times over, from 2.3 million cubic feet to 10.8 million cubic feet. Without a bigger landfill that could take radioactive materials from around the country, Waste Control has suggested they could go out of business.

Wilson said he didn’t appreciate being threatened.

“That puts an ungodly amount of pressure on us,” he said.

NOTE: There were some other interesting developments at the hearing. I will have more early next week.

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.