Every legislative session, Harold Simmons’ radioactive waste dump company comes to the Legislature with a new favor to ask. Every session Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat with a peace activist pedigree, puts up a spirited protest. And every session, Simmons—one of the state’s most generous GOP donors—pretty much gets what he wants. This time was no different. Yesterday, Burnam won a temporary victory when he knocked down Senate Bill 791 on a technicality. Among other changes, SB 791 would’ve allowed Waste Control Specialists to bring “hotter” (read: more radioactive) waste from out of state. But today, West Texas lawmakers tacked similar provisions onto a related radioactive waste bill. The legislation, SB 347, sailed through on 131-12 vote. The House rejected Burnam’s attempts to require auditing of the radioactive waste shipments as well as requirements to beef up monitoring for water at the site. Burnam repeatedly referred to the legislation as the “biggest vendor bill” this session—a reference to the considerable political and economic muscle that Simmons brings to the table. “Have you been listening?,” Burnam said to the House. “I’ve been saying for over a decade that this vendor is going to walk away from this facility as soon as they’ve made as much money as they think they can make … and the state of Texas will be economically liable for the contamination and the leaks and the improper disposal.” He reminded his colleagues that three Texas Commission on Environmental Quality staffers had quit in protest when their superiors gave Waste Control a permit over their objections. A team of engineers and geologists had unanimously determined that the dump is dangerously close to water tables. But Rep. Tryon Lewis, a West Texas Republican and the House sponsor of SB 347, said the dump is safe. “This site is about as secured and monitored as about any site you can imagine in this country,” Lewis said.
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Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is the editor of the Observer.