Tender loving care If attorney general candidate Mark White wasn’t well cared for at the state Democratic convention last month, it wasn’t his staff’s fault. His people made sure the press knew just where he would be, when he would be there, and what he would be doing, with a widely distributed schedule. Some samples: “7 p.m. Mark will be taken to a reception or will mix with delegates.” “10 p.m. Mark will stand in the receiving line for about an hour, shaking hands.” “Mark must leave at 10 a.m. . . . He may drop in on a breakfast or morning reception before leaving.” The only thing the schedule didn’t tell reporters was when to come by Mark’s hotel room to tuck him in. Thanks, but no thanks A sift through the campaign contri bution reports of incumbent Sen. John Tower produces this gossipy tidbit: on April 27, the Tower campaign returned a $1,000 donation to its sender, one Maurice H. Stans of Watergate infamy. To be or not to be As the old joke has it, there’s no such thing as being “a little bit preg nant,” but Gulf States Utilities is doing its best to prove that a proposed nuclear power plant can be a little bit canceled. The plant in question is the Blue Hills northern Newton County, two miles from the Toledo Bend Reservoir and next door to Louisiana. In August, Gulf States chairman W. Bonham Crawford announced that the Blue Hills project was canceled, and Texas environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists happily turned their attention to battles over other nuclear construction programs. Yet this month Gulf States attorneys will be trying very hard to win approval of the proposed site from the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the arm of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission Slipping through? Environmentalists haven’t been lulled into similar inaction regard ing the Allens Creek nuclear facility planned by Houston Lighting & Power Company for a site just 35 miles from Houston, but they have encountered another pitfall in the administrative process. Notice of a construction permit hearing for this project attracted petitions to intervene from the Texas Public. Interest Research Group and others; TexPIRG’s petition, in particular, seemed to guarantee a broad challenge to HL&P’s economic and environmental impact claims and the adequacy of its proposed reactor design. But now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is telling the intervenors that the upcoming hearing isn’t the right forum for raising arguments on some key features of HL&P’s Allens Creek planssuch as the provisions the company would make for the proposed facility once its useful life ends and for the cracking of pipes while it’s in operation. The reason, it seems, is that NRC staffers are studying these issues with an eye toward fashioning industry-wide stan that determines the suitability of nuclear plants. What’s going on here is the first application anywhere in the country of a brand-new administrative procedure called “early site review.” This procedure lets Gulf States seek a quick, legally binding decision on the environmental fitness of the Blue Hills site for eventual nuclear development; a favorable judgment from the feds would remain in force for five years, during which the utility company could change its mind about “cancellation” and apply without further preliminaries for a construction permit. Only objections to the design of the reactor would be permissible at that point, barring an unlikely finding of “significant dards, and they don’t want to entertain objections case-by-case in the meantimeall of which makes things tidier for the federal nuclear bureaucracy but imposes a heavy burden on local opponents of particular plants, who will now have to monitor the national rulemaking process and fight in two forums to make their case. However, not all bureaucratic imperatives are working in favor of the nuclear developersthe Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has postponed its scheduled October hearing on construction at Aliens Creek, and no new date has been set. HL&P had planned to break ground at the site immediately after the hearing, and company spokesmen predict the delay will cost utility users some $18 million. new information” on the environmental question. With the stop-the-nuke forces caught unawares, the October 24-25 site hearing in Beaumont promises to be a somewhat incestuous affair: the only parties slated to attend are the ‘folks who’ve been working together on the Blue Hills project for the last four yearsthe company’s lawyers, the federal regulators, and members of Attorney General John Hill’s staff, who’ll represent the state as an “interested party.” No wonder, then, that Henry Joyner, PR director for Gulf States, owns up to being “cautiously optimistic” about prospects for the once and future plant. Susan Reid Whatever the actual costs of delay may be, the postponement clearly touches a sensitive nerve at HL&P, which already faces mounting discontent over construction cost overruns from its municipal partners in the South Texas Nuclear Project at Bay City. Costconscious officials in Austin and San Antonio, whose public utilities own a 44 percent share of STNP, are toying with the idea of selling out part or all of their interests. If the two cities do pull out, managing partner HL&P is the most likely buyerand the additional generating capacity just might allow the company to drop its plans for the Aliens Creek plant even though its anti-nuclear critics have been momentarily stymied by the NRC. Susan Reid 14 OCTOBER 20, 1978 wee 11
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