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State lawmakers again try to ban most dangerous nuclear waste as feds consider allowing it at West Texas site

August 23, 2021

Texas Tribune

A failed regular session bill sought to give a financial break to a West Texas nuclear waste disposal company. Now, lawmakers have removed what opponents called a giveaway and are again trying to pass a bill to stop highly radioactive materials from coming to Texas.

Andrews Waste site
The entrance to the Waste Control Specialists site where low-level radioactive and hazardous waste is being stored. The company is seeking a federal license to store the highest level of nuclear waste, but lawmakers are trying to ban that. Credit: Eli Hartman for The Texas Tribune

After failing this spring, Texas lawmakers are again trying to ban the most dangerous type of radioactive waste from entering the state — at the same time as a nuclear waste disposal company in West Texas pursues a federal application to store the highly radioactive materials.

Environmental and consumer advocates for years have decried a proposal to build a 332-acre site in West Texas near the New Mexico border to store the riskiest type of nuclear waste: spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants, which can remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. Strong political interests in Texas, from Gov. Greg Abbott to some oil and gas companies operating in the Permian Basin, have opposed the company’s application.

But a bill that sought to ban the highly radioactive material failed during the regular legislative session that ended in May. That bill, filed by State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, whose district includes Andrews County where the existing nuclear waste company Waste Control Specialists operates, included a big break on fees for the company. Some lawmakers also thought the previous bill’s language wasn’t strong enough to actually ban the materials.

Read more at the Texas Tribune website

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.”

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."

Fair Use Notice
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.

Fair Use Notice
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.

The Good and the Bad: Radioactive Waste Legislation – 2019

The first rule of holes… When you’re in one, stop digging

In December 2018 the Compact Facility Legislative Oversight Committee released its Report to the 86th Legislature. The committee examined costs, fees, capacity and an upcoming contingency plan for Waste Control Specialists’ (WCS) facility in Andrews, Texas.

This site currently accepts low-level radioactive waste. The company has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license allowing them to import 40,000 tons of dangerous high-level radioactive waste, spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors around the country, which would be transported across Texas and stored above ground at the WCS site for decades.

WCS has a history of repeatedly requesting the Legislature to allow expansion of their site and the amount of waste they can accept, changes they claim are essential for their financial success. Yet they’re losing $10 million annually. The company has also received numerous TCEQ license amendments that undermine their original requirements. They’re back again.

Please oppose Sen. Seliger’s SB 1021 and Rep. Landgraf’s HB 2269, which would

  • Increase the limits on the curies of radioactive waste the site can accept, once again.
  • Require construction of another waste pit when capacity reaches a certain point. This premature move is unnecessary. The company recently reported to the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission that less than 2% of the Compact facility capacity has been used.
  • Entirely cut out the 5% revenue that was originally required to go to the comptroller and into the general revenue fund for the State of Texas. This equates to an unwarranted bailout at the expense of all Texans. The 5% for Andrews County would remain intact.
  • Allow disposal rate changes designed to increase the amount of radioactive waste at the site.

Legislators should deny requests to expand the site, especially digging an additional unnecessary and expensive pit, which could worsen financial woes and put the State of Texas at increased risk.

Texas may have to take over the radioactive waste site operation or closure at some point if the operator goes bankrupt or walks away from the project. Limiting the waste would limit liability. It makes sense to limit, not expand, the importation of radioactive waste. Opposing this bill can help prevent billions of dollars in future liability and increased health and safety risks.

Why should WCS no longer have to pay the State of Texas the agreed upon 5% revenue? This funding should be dedicated to a Texas contingency fund to protect the state’s finances, and the health and safety of Texans in the event of radiation releases from accidents or sabotage at the site or during transport.

The State of Vermont required $250 million in order to protect the state in the upcoming decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor.

Former NRC Chairman Peter Bradford noted in the November 2018 Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission meeting that the State of New York was left to foot the bill for $2 billion of remediation at the radioactively contaminated West Valley site, since the federal government refuses to pay for the entire massive cleanup.

Please support Sen. Rodriguez’ SB 1753 and Rep. Blanco’s HB 4089

These good companion bills require:

  • The development of a state contingency plan that would be needed if an operator went bankrupt or abandoned the project, or in case of a serious accident
  • Updating of the financial assurance assessment in order to protect the financial well being of the state of Texas
  • Independent inspection of the radioactive waste site and its operations, paid for by the operator
  • Analysis of the risks that might be incurred if there is a radioactive release involving low-level or high-level radioactive waste at the site or during transportation

A state contingency plan is needed to ensure that strong financial assurance is put in place to protect Texas’ financial health. Remediation costs at existing leaking federal radioactive waste sites have soared into the billions of dollars. The federal government is unlikely to foot the entire bill if there is an accident, leak or sabotage that leads to contamination.

Financial losses should not be used as an excuse to bail out a radioactive waste site operator or to cut the state out of previously promised revenues. Unnecessary expansion should not be allowed. WCS should not be allowed to dig themselves into a deeper hole, one that Texans could inherit later.

No operator should be allowed to put the finances, health or safety of Texans at risk. Legislators should resist a private company’s effort to expand imports of dangerous high-level radioactive waste for their own economic benefit, while risks to the state would increase.

If the state has to take over operations or closure of the radioactive waste site, less waste will mean less liability. Texas legislators should support these good bills in order to protect public health and safety, and the financial security of our state.

Compact Facility Legislative Oversight Committee, Report to the 86th Legislature, December 2018:
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