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Radioactive waste bill faces opposition

April 16, 2013 at 11 p.m.


LUBBOCK (AP) - People living nearest to a radioactive waste dump site in West Texas would be barred from challenging the company operating the facility under a bill that opponents say further caters to the business.

Senate Bill 791 also encourages members of a compact, Texas and Vermont, to send their low-level waste elsewhere, allows for the company to take in additional, more radioactive material per year and seeks to prohibit public hearings or comment on some changes to the company's license.

The bill from Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, could be voted on as early as today. A similar bill has been filed in the House.

Residents of Eunice, N.M., live less than 10 miles from Dallas-based Waste Control Specialist's 1,300-acre radioactive waste burial ground. Under the bill, they would no longer be able to claim to Texas licensing officials that their well-being is affected by the dump. The bill allows for challenges from Texas residents in Andrews County, home to the dump site, and any adjacent Texas county.

Eunice native Rose Gardner has long objected to the dump site, believing that leaks will lead to groundwater contamination. She said she's long known that someday the company would try to silence her objections.

"There isn't a Texan living near the state line," the 54-year-old flower shop owner said. "They live 37 miles away in Andrews. And we're sitting here like little kids playing tiddlywinks."

Company spokesman Chuck McDonald said that part of the bill might not remain. He said Seliger spoke to Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, about a proposed amendment.

"I think it's really a moot point based on the exchange I heard in committee," McDonald said.

A call seeking comment from Seliger was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The nuclear waste dump site, whose majority owner is billionaire and GOP mega-donor Harold Simmons, accepted its first low-level radioactive waste about a year ago, ending an expensive and years-long effort by the company to bury materials from medical, research and industrial activities and from nuclear power plants. Also buried there is PCB-tainted sludge dredged from the Hudson River in New York and tons of Cold-war era radioactive waste from a former uranium-processing plant in Ohio.

Environmental groups have opposed the company's continual pressing for various types of waste to bury in the remote scrub brush terrain about 375 miles west of Dallas.

"It's just always something more and I have to wonder where this will end," said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Texas SEED Coalition.

Originally the site was to handle low-level waste from compact states, but last legislative session lawmakers approved allowing waste from more than three dozen states to be buried at the facility.

Seliger's bill also seeks to promote sending low-level waste, known as Class A, out of Texas for burial and ups the annual radiation limit for the next two years from 220,000 to 300,000 curies so that states outside the compact can to dispose of hotter waste, known as Class B and C.

The company, Andrews County and the state stand to make more money from the hotter waste. The county receives 5 percent and the state 25 percent of the company's revenues quarterly.

Lawmakers should play an active role in regulating any future plans by the company to expand the site's capacity and any change in its license, including the forms, types or streams of waste, Duncan said.

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