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IT IS AN ECONOMIC model common in the Third World. A natural resource is extracted and shipped to a less developed region where both the cost of labor and standards of environmental protection are low. The raw material is refined then removed to a developed country where the final product or products are completed and marketed. What small prosperity that results in the underdeveloped region is offset by the degradation of the environment and the lack of complete economic development. Product and profit are repatriated and only a small transfer of wealth from the postindustrial to the Third World ever occurs. It is by such a model in part that Karnes County comes to include a disproportionate number of radioactive “hot spots.” One particularly hot spot is Conoco’s Conquista mill tailings pond near Falls City. The state permit for the site allowed for the disposal of uranium mill tailings themselves a considerable environmental hazard, notorious for their emissions of cancer-causing radon gas. Yet certain imprecise statutory language allows the disposal of mill tailings and other similar substances at uranium mine sites. It is by this imprecise language that Conoco, even after shutting down its own mine at Falls City, continued to receive “similar substances” from other companies including the waste stream from Frenchowned Rhone-Poulenc’s production and research facility at Freeport. The rare earth ore that Rhone-Poulenc mines in Australia is shipped to La Rochelle, France, according to Austin environmental attorney Bill Bunch. That is the first stop in a transport-and-refine process by which the material travels from Australia, to France, to Texas, and finally back to France. At La Rochelle, some inert materials are removed from the ore, but it is on the third leg of the three-continent/four-stop journey that certain hazardous and radioactive wastes are extracted from RhonePoulenc’s “feedstock.” And although environmental laws make it impossible to ship hazardous waste into the U.S., since the Rhone-Poulenc waste stream is part of a local production process, some of it ends up in an open pit near Falls City. A University of Texas analysis of this type of waste stream determined that it is 50 to 500 times more radioactive than the material for which the site was permitted. Thorium, for example, is one radioactive material that always occurs in rare earth deposits. And thorium had been dumped at Conoco’s Conquista pond until the disposal site was closed two years ago after a few South Texas environmentalists made continued operation so burdensome that the company decided to go elsewhere. ELSEWHERE, OF COURSE, is often another man’s backyard. This becomes evident when environmentalists gather to trade war stories and plan strategies. At a December 3 meeting in San Marcos, Forest Balser, the Falls City rancher/teacher who fought the Conquista pit, sat across the table from Bret Trant, a Brackettville rancher fighting the location of a similar waste disposal site in Kinney County. Or another woman’s backyard. San Antonio attorney Ellen Belcher Langham praised Senator Judith Zaffirini, whom she described as the legislator responsible for keeping a proposed low-level nuclear waste site out of Southwest Texas, where the Belcher family “ranches.” That comment would have interested Bonnie Lynch of Dell City. Lynch, an artist and environmental activist who was unable to attend the December 3 meeting. is fighting the location of the same low-level nuclear waste site in her backyard where Senators Tati Santiesteban and Bill Sims were outsmarted by Zaffirini, who blocked the location of the low-level site in her Southwest Texas district and moved it on to the sprawling 25th senatorial district, represented by San Angelo Democrat Sims. \(The Hudspeth County site is in Sims’s district but it is located at Fort Hancock, only an hour drive So there are no parochial environmental issues. Separate issues are best understood in terms of zero-sum gain theory the mathematics model that interprets all relationships as if they were games of poker, where one player gains only when another loses. And the legislature, it is now recognized, is rented out for 140 days of each oddnumbered year by the Texas Chemical Council. The Bureau of Radiation Control is a paradigm of a captive regulatory agency and the federal EPA is underfunded and weakened by eight years of Reaganism. On the Texas Railroad Commission, John Sharp represents, at best, one out of three environmentally responsible votes. Meanwhile, Karnes County milk tested by the TDA is radioactive, yet another French-owned company is applying for a permit to incinerate waste in Texas City, and Texas continues as the nation’s largest b ..,E… server DECEMBER 23, 1988 VOLUME 80, No. 24 FEATURES Leveraged Lives By Bill Adler 1 “Arsonomics” in Bowie County By Dave Denison 12 Talking With Old Soldiers By Maury Maverick, Jr. 18 DEPARTMENTS Dialogue 2 Editorial 3 Journal 4 Political Intelligence 21 Afterword Letter from New York By Gara LaMarche 22 producer of hazardous waste. And Rhone-Poulenc continues its Freeport operation, though Austin lawyer Bill Bunch contends that no one seems to know where it is that the waste ends up. Somehow, it seems unlikely that it is returned to Australia or France. If there is anything like good news on the environmental front, it is the recent formation of a statewide coalition of environmental organizations and activists. Conservation leaders representing 40 groups from 25 of the state’s 31 senatorial districts met in San Marcos on December 3. The coalition set about to establish a statewide network and prepare a legislative agenda that will focus on the 71st and 72nd sessions. The meeting was sponsored by the Texas Energy Alliance and Texas POWER \(People Organized to Win Environmental coalition unites professional environmental lobbyists and lawyers with local activists who have cultivated ties with a few elected official who advocate responsible environmental regulation \(read: Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower and Corpus Christi Senator “If nothing else, you’ve created the illusion of a movement,” TDA Director of Natural Resources Bob King told the San Marcos gathering. The group holds a second meeting in Houston in mid-January then moves on toward the legislature and the beginning of a genuine statewide environmental movement. L.D. EDITORIAL Hot Spots THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3