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the DOE and then, under contract to the federal government, offer continued oversight of the facility’s operations. “We’re offering a safe, creative solution to help solve the DOE’s disposal problems,” Bigham’s press release read. So creative, it appears, that no one seems to know if it’s legal. The company acknowledged in the text of the proposal that “there is no direct precedent” for the approach suggested by the company. The choice of Texas Tech is perhaps not surprising. The university has been rented by private interests in the past, so at least there is some precedent there. West Texans remember that Tech was the sub-contractor that received a $1.5 million grant to help MERCO Joint Ventures get the Sierra Blanca sludge operation permitted \(with the help of former legislator and former state water board are the folks that brought Texas the largest sewer dump in the world,” said Marfa resident Gary Oliver. And Texas Tech’s new Chancellor, John Montford, was one of the senators who helped Bigham get his first legislative effort through the Senate in 1995. In the sewage-sludge permit fight, Tech had some expertise to sell; at least its rangeland management programs created the illusion of expertise in dealing with soils and sludge. By its own admission, the university has no experience with DOE licensure or radioactive waste disposal. “They’re just piggy-backing on Texas Tech,” says Representative Talton. Even TNRCC Chairman Barry McBee acknowledges reservations about the university’s role. “I don’t want to discount the abilities of Texas Tech, but there are existing regulatory agencies in place,” McBee said. The chairman added, however, that the Commission has taken no official position on private companies disposing of radioactive waste in Texas. SHOWDOWN IN AUSTIN Despite WCS’s avowed efforts to steer clear of conflicts with the Authority, old habits die hard. At a legislative agenda meeting of El Paso city, county, and state officials held last December, a resolution opposing the Sierra Blanca site was unanimously approved. According to those present, only one official wanted to request specifically that the site be moved to Andrews County: El Paso state representative Pat Haggerty. Ethics Commission filings show A Chet Brooks as a State Senator Alan Pogue that Haggerty received campaign donation’s from Ken Bigham, and from Senators-turned-WCS-lobbyists Chet Brooks and Carl Parkerall on the same day, and only a few weeks prior to the El Paso meeting. As late as mid-February, Joe Egan was still discounting the simmering conflict between Waste Control and the Authority. Egan went so far as to suggest that a partnership might evolve between the two entities, with Waste Control processing and treating waste to be disposed in Sierra Blanca. But at this point, the Authority and its surrogates are not ready to join any partnership. “Unless I’ve missed c. ’74=1. trial fi rms, hospitals, universities, an pharmaceutical manufacturers. Low-level waste is often described by industry spokespersons as consisting primarily of “gloves, syringes, and booties”—in fact about 70 percent of the waste by volume is from power plants, which dispose in these dumps everything but spent fuel rods. A 1993 report by the Washington, okesmen approximately 90 percent o f the total radioactivity in the nation’s lowlevel waste flow in any given year comes from nuclear power plants. The misleading term “low-lever is another topic the industry is reluctant to discuss. Last month, Texas Low-Level Authority director Rick Jacobi told the Senate Finance Committee that the hazardous life of low-level waste varies from Op*, tute for Energy and ‘..gliVii0Tir1144 search explains; the Nuclear Regulatory Conunission assigns to this category ev -erything from short-lived radio-isotopes used in research, to extremely deadly and long lived substances commonly found in reactor waste. Some of these isotopes such as plutonium, strontium-99, and cesium-137remain hazardous for millions of years. N.B. 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 28, 1997