No Nuclear Waste! We Dont Want It!

An amendment about waste facility fees was added to a widely supported domestic violence bill. Will it stick?

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s office said Saturday that she “is still evaluating all options available to save SB 1804.”

BY SHANNON NAJMABADI
The Texas Tribune

MAY 25, 2019

The bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, which sailed through the House and Senate with no opposing votes, requires that bond information about domestic violence offenders be entered into a statewide data repository. Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

Texas Legislature 2019

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.

A widely supported bill to protect domestic violence survivors may have hit an unexpected roadblock after the House approved a last-minute amendment that would delay a scheduled increase to the fees a radioactive waste facility in West Texas must pay.

The measure, Senate Bill 1804 by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, could now be headed to a conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers will negotiate its final language and decide if the waste-related amendment will stay. Kolkhorst could also accept the change. Her office said Saturday, "With only hours left available to review the amendments to her bill, Senator Kolkhorst is still evaluating all options available to save SB 1804."

The author of the amendment, state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, told The Texas Tribune the bill would pass and that he would strip his amendment if necessary.

Kolkhorst’s bill, which sailed through the House and Senate with no opposing votes, requires that bond information about domestic violence offenders be entered into a statewide data repository.

A dearth of centralized data has made it difficult to verify and enforce the conditions of bond, the analysis argues, and leaves "survivors, law enforcement, and the community" at risk and the offender without accountability. The bill would also require that survivors be notified if an offender is released on bond, the analysis says.

Moments before the House gave the bill final approval Wednesday, Nevárez — who sponsored the measure along with state Rep. Sam Harless, R-Spring — added the amendment.

The amendment, he told other state representatives, "offers some economic competitive incentives in the bill" and was "acceptable to the author." The House approved it with a voice vote.

But the amendment has little to do with the bill itself — which Nevárez acknowledges. "It has absolutely nothing to do with domestic violence, and there is no quibbling about that," he said.

Instead, the amendment appears to delay an increase to a surcharge and state fee paid by the private operator of a waste disposal facility. It bears similarities to bills filed by state Rep. Brooks Landgraf and state Sen. Kel Seliger, Republicans from Odessa and Amarillo, respectively, whose bills appear destined to die with only two days left in the legislative session. The amendment "keeps the status quo," Nevárez said; without it, the fee and surcharge paid by the operator would likely increase this year.

Thomas Graham, a spokesperson for the company that runs the disposal facility, Waste Control Specialists, said the amendment "simply continues current law."

"We’re talking about waste that comes from health care facilities, industrial facilities, the oil and gas industry, and from all parts of the state," he said, citing a state report that recommended lowering the surcharges. "So making sure that the facility remains viable and operational is critical to the state’s economy."

Nevárez said the amendment helps an industry that is a big job creator. But he disputed the idea that there was "something shady" about how he was trying to pass it.

"I did this out in the open — I did it on the House floor. I told them the amendment’s about economic competitiveness, and everyone at their desk can read their amendment. Anyone could have gotten up and asked me a question. Nobody wanted to. I can only assume they’re uninterested in it or they’re fine with it," he said. "There’s nothing untoward about putting an amendment on a bill that has nothing to do with one thing or another at this time of session — everyone’s looking for a ride."

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This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

How a radioactive waste fees amendment was tied to a domestic violence bill

May 25, 2019

By Asher Price
Austin American Statesman

An amendment that would delay fees and surcharges paid by a West Texas radioactive waste disposal company to the state managed to squeak onto the domestic-violence-related bill to which it had been appended as the end of the legislative session approached.

With the bill now heading to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature, and the amendment still attached, the waste disposal company has notched a victory.

Senate Bill 1804 would require the entry of certain conditions of bond information into a statewide law enforcement information system and set victim notification requirements. The bill was prompted by concerns among police and family members about the bond conditions of domestic violence offenders.

The bill passed the Senate in April by a vote of 31-0. On May 22, it passed the House 142-0, but not before, on the bill’s third reading, Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, successfully added an amendment that would delay until 2021 certain fees and surcharges related to the disposal of low-level radioactive waste — such as rags, syringes and protective clothing from nuclear plants or hospitals — at the Waste Control Specialists site in Andrews County, in West Texas. The fees are set to go into effect this year, with the money meant to go to a perpetual care account for anything that might go wrong at the Waste Control Specialists site.

The amendment is a cousin of legislation that never got to the floor of the House or Senate. That legislation would have reduced by $4.17 million the fees the company pays the state. Company officials say the legislative fixes are necessary to keep the company competitive with waste sites in other parts of the country.

At a House committee hearing on the legislation in March, Waste Control Specialists President David Carlson said the company has "struggled to lower our prices to compete with the marketplace."

He blamed "unreasonable restrictions" built into statute, including what he called excessive taxes.

The House version of the legislation was carried by Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, whose district includes Andrews.

Nevárez, who represents a bordering district, said Landgraf approached him about carrying the amendment partly because as a committee chairman and bill co-sponsor, he has more legislative muscle.

Environmental groups have long opposed radioactive waste at the site, which they say could jeopardize groundwater.

In introducing the amendment in the Texas House, Nevárez told members that "this is an amendment that clarifies that it offers some economic competitive incentives in the bill."

He told House members the amendment was "acceptable to the author" — he himself was a House co-sponsor of SB 1804.

On Saturday, Nevárez told the American-Statesman that the strange fit between the amendment and the bill was not unusual: "You try to catch a ride where you can. If someone had objected to the germane-ness, the amendment does not go on. It’s within the rules, and it’s what we do. It’s a common occurrence."

He said that if the delay in fee-paying "will let them maintain some stability out there and jobs, then it’s worth doing."

"We do that a lot over here," Nevárez continued. "We kick industries in the butt in good ways and bad ways."

Saturday evening, with a key end-of-session deadline looming, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, decided to accept the House version of her bill — with the Nevárez amendment attached — rather than opt for a conference committee, in which lawmakers from both chambers would have had to hammer out an agreement or the bill could die altogether.

Asked whether the Nevárez amendment was unexpected, she told the American-Statesman on Saturday afternoon: "Yes."

Ultimately, keen to send her domestic violence bill to the governor for his signature, and with the legislative deadline looming, she declared in the Senate that she concurred with the House version.

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This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Federal nuclear board nixes request for hearing on New Mexico waste facility

May 7, 2019

By Rebecca Moss, rmoss@sfnewmexican.com
Santa Fe New Mexican

The Holtec project proposes that carbon steel vessels full of spent nuclear fuel rods be buried in a waste field in southeastern New Mexico’s Lea County. Rendering courtesy Holtec International

A federal board that oversees commercial nuclear materials and licenses said Tuesday it has rejected a request by a group of opponents over a proposed nuclear waste storage site in Southern New Mexico.

Holtec International, a New Jersey-based company specializing in nuclear reactor technology, is waiting on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve its license for an expansive facility that could be used to hold all of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel — radioactive uranium left over from power production.

Holtec is partnering with the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance, a coalition of local government officials in Southern New Mexico.

During a three-day hearing earlier this year in Albuquerque, an unlikely alliance of critics, including environmental and anti-nuclear groups as well as a nuclear fuel technology company and an oil and gas producer, raised concerns about the project.

The Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear Inc., Texas-based Fasken Land and Minerals Ltd. and Georgia-based NAC International Inc. were among those who petitioned the commission to hold a hearing.

The facility is poised to violate federal law and could pose significant public health and safety danger from a radioactive accident, the groups argued. They also were concerned that an accident in Southern New Mexico would threaten the local economy, particularly for ranchers and mineral extraction operations in the region.

An evidentiary hearing would have allowed the groups to challenge Holtec’s licence.

But the commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board said in a 142-page decision that the nearly 50 issues raised by the critics did not meet legal requirements necessary to trigger a hearing.

For instance, the three-member board said, an environmental analysis of the project is required under federal law, but the board does not have to "analyze every conceivable aspect of the project." Particularly, the board said in its decision, it is not required to assess worst-case scenario events or those that are "remote and highly speculative."

John Buchser, with the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter, said the organization intends to appeal the board’s decision to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The proposed facility has been under consideration for several years and was supported by former Gov. Susana Martinez as well as many officials in the region, which also is home to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

So far, WIPP, an underground storage site, is the only place to permanently deposit lower-level nuclear waste created by the Department of Energy’s weapons production efforts.

Holtec filed an application in 2017 to design a facility that would place removable canisters in a "dry-cask" storage system 25 feet below ground — where, the company argues, they would be more secure than if they remain at various nuclear power plants around the county.

The casks could be transferred to a permanent storage location in the future — though no such facility exists, and plans to open a site in Nevada were stalled by political and social pushback in that state in recent years.

A temporary storage site also has been proposed in West Texas, just across the border.

Groups critical of the plan said the license Holtec has requested — initially for 40 years, with the potential to operate for more than a century — contradicts federal law. The Department of Energy cannot legally take ownership of waste from private nuclear power stations unless a permanent repository is in operation. There are also questions about whether federal law allows storage of any high-level nuclear waste at a temporary facility when the nation has no designated site for permanent storage.

"Until the law changes on those two points, they can’t transport the waste," Buchser said, adding New Mexicans statewide should be concerned about the project.

Critics also question whether private companies will be willing to take on the high cost and liability of shipping spent fuel to New Mexico.

Among other concerns raised by the petitioners: the safety of transportation by railroad on aging lines, the possibility of leaking canisters, the risk of water and environmental contamination, and the threat to oil and gas development in the booming Permian Basin.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board said, however, it assumes Holtec and the Department of Energy "would not be complicit in any such unlawful contracts."

Holtec and the board also said Congress could amend the Nuclear Waste Act to allow the Department of Energy to take ownership of the spent fuel, even without a permanent storage facility on the horizon.

The ruling put the project on track to be licensed by 2020, the company said.

Buchser, with the Sierra Club, said the onus now lies with New Mexico’s congressional delegation, governor and attorney general to decide if they support the project and the implications of an expanded nuclear waste footprint in New Mexico.

"The whole concept of consent for our politicians here in New Mexico becomes extremely important," he said.

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This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

New Mexico Is Divided Over The ‘Perfect Site’ To Store Nation’s Nuclear Waste

April 11, 2019

Nathan Rott at NPR

A 1,000-acre patch of southeast New Mexico desert may offer a temporary solution to the nation’s longstanding nuclear waste problem.
Nathan Rott/NPR

Thirty-five miles out of Carlsbad, in the pancake-flat desert of southeast New Mexico, there’s a patch of scrub-covered dirt that may offer a fix — albeit temporarily — to one of the nation’s most vexing and expensive environmental problems: What to do with our nuclear waste?

Despite more than 50 years of searching and billions of dollars spent, the federal government still hasn’t been able to identify a permanent repository for nuclear material. No state seems to want it.

So instead, dozens of states are stuck with it. More than 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, a still-radioactive byproduct of nuclear power generation, is spread across the country at power plants and sites in 35 states.

The issue has dogged politicians for decades. Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently described the situation as a “logjam.” But some hope that this remote, rural corner of New Mexico may present a breakthrough.

Read more…

Nuclear Regulators Search For Temporary Storage Facility In New Mexico

April 30, 2019 5:11 PM ET
Heard on All Things Considered
NPR

Private companies are proposing solutions to store the nation’s nuclear waste. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering one storage site in New Mexico’s desert.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Nearly 100,000 tons of nuclear waste are piling up around the country. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The federal government decided decades ago that it made sense to consolidate the waste at one permanent location, but no place seems to want it. So now nuclear regulators are considering proposals for temporary storage. NPR’s Nathan Rott checked out one such site in southeast New Mexico.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: When I asked for directions to the proposed interim nuclear storage facility, I got a few answers. The private company that wants to build it sent me GPS coordinates. A mayor in support of the project told me to drive to the county line and look north. Jason Shirley, a city councilman in Carlsbad, told me to drive 35 miles out of town, pull off on a dirt road and from there…

JASON SHIRLEY: Third cactus from the left – I don’t know what to tell you, bud (laughter).

ROTT: That, he says, is one of the draws.

SHIRLEY: This is 35 miles in the middle of nowhere.

ROTT: And after a drive, I can confirm.

Yeah, I’d say this is pretty well in the middle of nowhere.

The site in question is off a dirt road and marked by a green sign. It’s in the desert, pancake flat with the stubble of shin-high scrub. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering a proposal by a private company to build a consolidated interim storage facility here. It could hold tens of thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel brought in from California to New Jersey. John Heaton is a former New Mexico state legislator working to bring the facility here.

JOHN HEATON: A third of the U.S. population is within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant or facility that’s been decommissioned.

ROTT: And most of those power plants are by bodies of water – the ocean or rivers – places that are susceptible to flooding or natural disasters. Others are by fault lines.

HEATON: So there are a lot of folks that would like to get this material off their site and somewhere where it’s more stable until a repository can be opened.

ROTT: The federal government’s inability to find a permanent repository for the nation’s nuclear waste has been a long-standing problem and an expensive one. Its preferred site, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, has long been blocked by local opposition. So instead, the government pays utility companies millions of dollars a day – taxpayer money – to continue to store the waste on-site at power plants around the country. A blue-ribbon panel tasked with looking at this problem under the Obama administration suggested temporary consolidated storage. But to avoid another Yucca-like impasse, it suggested taking a, quote, “consent-based approach” when finding a site. And that…

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

ROTT: …May be hard to get.

Hey.

ROSE GARDNER: Hey, how are you?

ROTT: Good. How are you?

GARDNER: I’m Rose.

ROTT: Nate. Nice to meet you.

GARDNER: Come on in.

ROTT: Rose Gardner lives in Eunice, N.M., a tiny town about 35 miles from the proposed nuclear storage facility. She’s babysitting three energetic grandsons.

It’s a microphone.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah.

ROTT: Gardner has been outspoken in her opposition to the proposal. She’s heard the arguments for it – high-paying job, stable money, a patriotic duty – but she doesn’t see why New Mexico, particularly a rural corner of it, should have to take on the nation’s nuclear waste.

GARDNER: They claim that it’s so harmless. If it’s so harmless, then why do these communities that created this waste want to get rid of it?

ROTT: Gardner doesn’t believe the waste is safe. She worries about transporting it, storing it. Remote as the site is, she says…

GARDNER: There are people that live out there by that site – not so very far. There’s ranchers out there.

ROTT: And oil workers – lots of them. The proposed site is in the Permian Basin, which is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. Tommy Taylor is the director of oil and gas operations for a Texas-based company that has leases near the proposed site.

TOMMY TAYLOR: Don’t put this in the middle of an oil field. That’s a bad idea – certainly not the biggest oil field the United States has.

ROTT: Proponents for the plan insist that it’s safe and aim to convince more people of that. But Taylor and Gardner are clear – they won’t give consent to the project and will fight it best they can. The same is true of state leadership. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.

MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: There isn’t anyone who can demonstrate to me that there’s no risk here. There is risk. We should be clear about that. I don’t think it’s the right decision for the state.

ROTT: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hopes to finish its technical review of the proposal by next year. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Carlsbad, N.M.

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This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.