required either to take direct responsibility for their own waste or to form regional compact agreements, in which one state voluntarily would serve as the host for the other signatories’ waste. By January 1995, forty-two states had established nine compacts. But the problem was easier to solve on paper than on the ground. Throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, only three locations in the country handled commercial low-level waste: the Barnwell facility in South Carolina, plus dumps in Hanford, Washington, and Beatty, Nevada. The leaking Nevada dump was closed three years ago, when radioactive pollutants were discovered 357 feet below the desert surfacemuch deeper than scientists had thought possible, according to the Los Angeles Times. While eleven new facilities have been planned, only four states have gotten as far as selecting sites. And none has begun actual construction. Only two states, California and Texas, estimate completion before the year 2000. According to a 1995 U.S. General Accounting Office report, the main obstacle to the new dumps has been public opposition. In Illinois, public outcry resulted in review of the selected site by an independent commission, which eventually recommended scrapping the site and re-starting the entire siting process. Michigan was expelled from its compact when it concluded that its own environmental laws precluded locating the dump anywhere in the state. And after widespread civil disobedience, New York has had to repeat the entire process at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. The national dump situation has accordingly raised the stakes in Texas. Diminished disposal space has forced the industry to spend two decades reducing its waste flow through compacting, recycling and, where possible, substituting less radioactive isotopes. Several demonstrated that there is not even enough waste for the eleven dumps now planned. In fact, more than two or three national dumps, according to the report, will drive fees so low that profit threatened. This economic realityand growing public resistance to new dumpshas raised the very real possibility that the next dump permitted will become the nuclear waste repository for the whole nation, for decades to come. With authorities in Texas predicting that its facility will be operating in 1998, the eyes of the nation are on West Texas. THE TEXAS WASTE WAR In Texas, the process that promises to make the state the nation’s nuclear repository didn’t begin yesterday. In 1983 the Legislature formed TLLRWDA, and directed the agency to find a suitable site to build and operate the state’s low-level dump. Eight years and thirty million dollars later, Authority director Rick Jacobiformerly a safety officer at the trouble-plagued South Texas Nuclear Projectwas still looking. Turned away by public opposition in county after county, Jacobi was finally ordered by the Legislature to locate the dump in Hudspeth County, near the Mexican border. Jacobi settled on the Fashkin Ranch, near the tiny town of Sierra Blanca, in an area the Authority had earlier rejected on geological grounds. The ranch is less than twenty miles away from the Rio Grande, in the state’s most seismologically active region. Sierra Blanca, a predominantly low-income, Mexican-American community, had only recently become the recipient of New York City sewer sludge. Under a deal brokered by the now-defunct Texas Water Commission, the town receives 250 tons of partially treated sewage sludge by rail each week. When Jacobi and company came to town, Sierra Blancans said enough is enough. “Between the poopoo choo-choo and the radioactive waste dump,” said life-long Sierra Blanca resident Bill Addington, “the state is turning us into New England’s pay toilet.” Addington organized an opposition coalition, which linked Sierra Blanca with Marfa, El Paso, and Alpine, and has attracted support from across the stateincluding opponents from Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and Houston, cities through which the radioactive waste will be trucked. This coalition has joined Mexican officials from the bor A Sarah Weddington as State Rep File Photo der states of Coahuila and Chihuahua and officials from nearly two dozen Texas cities and counties, to force a contested hearing of the draft license already issued to the Authority by the Texas Natural As public opposition to the facility grew, public officials began to take notice. In a January 1993 letter to then-Governor Ann Richards, Democratic Representative Pete Gallego of Alpine complained of “a recognizable pattern by state government in general…of dumping every form of waste near the Rio Grande and its people.” At the time, Governor Richards had good reason to ignore Gallego’s complaint: she had just signed the Texas-Maine-Vermont compact. If Congress approves the compactstill uncertainit will bring Texas an initial $50 million to act as the host state, plus considerable income from utilities in Maine and Vermont for years to come. Proponents like Richards and industry lobbyist Sarah Weddington have claimed that the compact is necessary, because it will prevent every state in the union from sending its waste to Texas. In reality, the compact does no such thing. Like most waste compacts formed under the 1980 law, the Texas-Maine-Vermont compact allows a governor-appointed commission to contract to accept waste MARCH 28, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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