Beyond City Limits
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last Wednesday voted 2-to-1 to approve a controversial nuclear-waste dump in West Texas that will open the door to radioactive byproducts from uranium mining and Cold War-era weapons facilities across the country. The site, operated by Waste Control Specialists, is about 30 miles outside of Andrews, Texas, and five miles from Eunice, N.M., where residents have spoken out heavily against the site. TCEQ staff for years had serious misgivings about the facility. Pat Bobeck, a former TCEQ geologist who left the agency along with two other high-level scientists over objections to WCS' licensing, said the "application contained inconsistencies, contradictions, and a lack of detailed geologic data." Of primary concern are staff reports that the water table is less than 14 feet beneath the facility, "making groundwater intrusion into the disposal units highly likely." Scientists also raised concerns over inadequate protection for employees against radiation exposure. Bobeck told The Texas Observer, "Agency management ignored my conclusions and those of other professional staff, and instead promoted issuance of the licenses." Since 2001, WCS has spread more than $2 million in political cash around Texas, predominantly to the GOP, while spending $2.8 million on 63 lobby contracts, according to Texans for Public Justice. WCS owner Harold Simmons is among the top all-time donors to Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed all three TCEQ commissioners. WCS says they've spent millions of dollars testing the site to ensure safety. TCEQ commissioners must still vote on WCS' second application for low-level radioactive waste disposal at the site. – Daniel Mottola
In other TCEQ action, the agency finalized rules for electronic-waste recycling last week. Thanks to a bipartisan bill passed by the Lege last session, as of Sept. 1, electronics manufacturers will have to take back computers, monitors, and other display devices for proper recycling in order to continue selling products in Texas. Eco-watchdogs like Texas Campaign for the Environment – which played a key role in creating the law and successfully pushed computer-makers like Dell to enact recycling reforms – said last week's rules, though stronger than those initially proposed, don't go far enough to address the dumping of electronic waste on developing countries around the world. "Many companies which bill themselves as 'electronic-waste recyclers' are sham operations and don't really recycle old electronics – they ship them to developing countries where crude backyard scrap operations can poison entire villages," said TCE Executive Director Robin Schneider. Zac Trahan of TCE said a reputable recycler will weed out illegal, unsafe scrap operations by providing documentation of e-waste's final destination, including permission from importing countries if shipped overseas. TCE will seek legislative clarification for the rules next session, Trahan said. Through the Reconnect partnership, many Austin-area Goodwills will accept and responsibly recycle old computers. For locations, see www.reconnectpartnership.com. For more on e-waste, see www.computertakeback.com and www.texasenvironment.org. – D.M.