Folding with Aces

When Alert Citizens for Environmental Safety (ACES, now known as ACES/Hudspeth Directive for Conservation) was granted "party status" in the TNRCC hearings to review the license application for a low-level nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca, we received the news with skepticism. Only recently in West Texas had we witnessed the TNRCC's devotion to the sewage dumping industry, and its willingness to ignore our concerns. In 23 days in 1992, the TNRCC approved the largest sewer-sludge dump in the nation, on a ranch in Sierra Blanca. Many of us protested, and tried to get into the decision-making process, but it seemed as if there was no place for the residents of West Texas who were concerned about the disposal of New York sewage sludge near our homes. So now, despite our intention to participate in the TNRCC's hearings on the nuclear waste dump, we suspected that the TNRCC hearings were bogus.

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

Linda Lynch is from Dell City, 70 miles east of the proposed site of the Sierra Blanca nuclear waste dump.

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