agement proposed creation of just such a network of regional sites. But states are increasingly wary of storing nuclear wastes within their borders. Even South Carolina, which has the largest concentration of nuclear facilities in the U.S. and gets nearly half of its electricity from nuclear generators, has recently set limits on the amount of low-level waste Chem-Nuclear may stow away each month at Barnwell. The point of these developments is not lost on the managers of Chem-Nuclear, as their annual report to stockholders last year reveals. “It is imperative,” they said, “that additional sites be located, developed and operated by the early 1980s to meet the nation’s requirement for safe and efficient disposal of nuclear waste. Chem-Nuclear is making every effort to see that it is the company which succeeds in this task.” Before turning its attention to Texas, Chem-Nuclear spent two years and $620,000 in a vain attempt to win approval for a low-level waste site in New Mexico. But New Mexico environmental officials “indicated that a licensing decision might be delayed another three years” and U.S. Department of Energy pronouncements “indicated federal control of site selection was an increasing possibility,” according to the company’s 1978 report, so a “decision to withdraw from New Mexico was thought to be the most prudent course of action for the financial well-being of Chem-Nuclear and its stockholders.” Now that Chem-Nuclear has its eye on Texas, company officials are loath to say much about their plans. Lloyd J. Andrews, Chem-Nuclear’s vice president, says that no specific site has been chosen but acknowledges that “we are sure there is some good geology in Texas.” Where that “good geology” is or how many sites the company has in mind he won’t say. He also won’t name the other states Chem-Nuclear is considering as possible hosts for its burial grounds. But Andrews does say that the “site has got to be regionally located to serve hospitals, industry, and researchmake your own overlay to see where it will be needed.” Chem-Nuclear would probably be asking the Health Department for permission to operate right now if it weren’t for a hitch in the Texas licensing process. According to David Lacker, head of the department’s radiation control division, Texas is obliged to take title to any land the state licenses as a low-level waste site by the terms of a 1963 agreement with the federal government; but a rider the Legislature routinely attaches to each biennial appropriations bill prohibits state agencies from acquiring land without specific legislative authorization. Because nobody has ever applied for a license, Lacker says, Texas is not “technically” in violation of the agreement, but licensing authority could revert to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission if a disposal permit has to be denied on account of the rider. The need for the state to respond to a new federal law on a related subject gave Chem-Nuclear its chance to remove the potential obstacle posed by the rider. Under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978, Congress gave Texas and other uranium-producing states until November 1981 to agree to acquire the sites where radioactive leftovers from the mining or processing of uranium are stored: if the Legislature has not acted by then, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take over exclusive responsibility. The ’78 federal law says nothing about low-level waste, but the bill ChemNuclear offered for the Legislature’s consideration would have allowed the Health Department to take title for the state to the kind of facility the company wants to set up in Texas as well as to uranium mill sites. Texas uranium producers like Mobil Oil and Atlantic Richfield that would stand to gain if the state assumes the burden of cleaning up after their operations naturally lined up behind the proposal. So did the Health Department; as Lacker puts it, “we really need uranium legislation and we felt that since lowlevel waste was similar and since the NRC could potentially retake control it could be dealt with similarly.” Lacker says that Dr. Raymond Moore, commissioner of health, approached some legislators who have uranium milling and mining sites in their districts to point out the provisions in the federal act calling for state legislation. Rep. Tom Martin of George West and Sen. John Traeger of Seguin, whose overlapping districts take in part of Texas’ uranium region in Live Oak and Wilson counties, were two who responded by signing up as sponsors of the Chem-Nuclear bill. The principal sponsor, though, was Sen. Peyton McKnight of Tyler, whose district contains no uranium to speak of but whose aides have some noteworthy ties with Chem-Nuclear. Former McKnight assistant Mark Rose is a registered lobbyist for the company; Ken Shepardson, an aide to McKnight during the 66th session, recently told the Observer he may leave the senator’s employ “to go to work for some of the people who work for Chem-Nuclear.” McKnight agreed to sponsor the bill, according to Shepardson, when former aide Rose brought it to him. It couldn’t have hurt any, however, that the other Chem-Nuclear lobbyist pushing the legislation was Alvin Askew, former executive director of the Governor’s Energy Advisory Council and former administrative assistant for energy to Gov. Dolph Briscoe. Whatever the particulars of the transaction, the cornpany 2s bill was duly introduced by McKnight as Senate Bill 910 and assigned to the natural resources committee chaired by Sen. Babe Schwartz. At the committee hearing the sponsors of SB 910 represented it as just a little bill to let Texas keep the feds from taking regulatory power away from the state; they cited the federal uranium mill tailings act as its principal raison detre. The selling job was so smooth that the bill slid through the committee with hardly a question asked. McKnight and company were prepared with a slide show and witnesses, says Shepardson, but with senators showing so little interest the “dog and pony show” wasn’t presented. The Senate passed the bill in early April by a 28-to-2 vote. In the House SB 910 was placed on the consent calendar, but Eric Schulze, Rep. Betty Denton’s legislative assistant, spotted it the night before it came up for pro forma approval and Denton knocked it off. With the help of Reps. Ron Waters and Bill Keese, she forced several hours of debate on the bill’s merits, and House sponsor Martin accepted several amendments before getting it okayed on final reading. The House amendments left intact the core of Chem-Nuclear’s billthe provision authorizing the Health Department to acquire title to low-level waste sites as well as uranium sitesbut McKnight was intransigent. With just ten days left in the session, he insisted on sending SB 910 to a conference committee in which he tried to strip off the House amendments, but conferees alerted by the House debate began demanding more information about its implications. As it became clear that a number of key questions could not be satisfactorily answered, support for the bill quickly ebbed. Precisely what kind of waste was cov ered by the bill? No one could say; al though conferees were assured that the bill dealt with uranium tailings and low level waste, SB 910 spoke in terms of “radioactive materials,” which could in clude just about any nuclear wastes not exclusively regulated by the feds. How much would SB 910 cost the state’s tax payers? The Legislative Budget Board looked at the provision authorizing the Health Department to take title to dispo sal sites and concluded: “It is impossible at this time to ascertain the potential fis cal limitations of this authority”which is the accountant’s way of saying “we don’t know. What penalty would a li censee suffer for improper disposal of wastes? Under the 1961 Texas law that paved the way for the agreement on nu clear waste disposal with the federal government, the maximum punishment THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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