Folding with Aces
Our suspicions were quickly confirmed. We soon learned that we could not meaningfully take part in the hearing process without a budget of at least $100,000. The fact that our participation -- the participation of citizens of West Texas, where this dump is to be located -- had to be approved or denied by the TNRCC, and that the agency presented us with excessively short schedules to prepare for the hearings, made it clear that the TNRCC is hostile to genuine debate and investigation.
The TNRCC staff itself took more than one year to review thousands and thousands of pages -- 29 volumes -- of the license application that the other party to the hearing, the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority, had submitted. We were allowed only weeks to try to review the permit -- then we were told to identify our issues, develop our discovery requests, locate and hire our expert witnesses, and respond to discovery summons, all in less than 10 months. Our requests for more time were ignored.
Texas law does not require that participants in permit hearings be provided with legal counsel, but no citizen is going to make a significant difference in the process without an attorney. And citizen contestants in a hearing must fund and prepare their case outside of the full-time jobs that most of them hold. In Sierra Blanca, the applicant seeking the license has a budget of $5 million for the hearing process alone. A full-time staff is devoted to developing the case.
So after 10 months of attempted participation in the hearing process, on an issue that we consider critical to our health and our property, we withdrew. We had learned that there is no place for the public in this hearing process. Given the inequity of money and time, the TNRCC will only hear the well-funded side of the case. In Sierra Blanca, that means the side of the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority.
Linda Lynch is from Dell City, 70 miles east of the proposed site of the Sierra Blanca nuclear waste dump.