Synthesis/Regeneration 9   (Winter 1996)

Gearing Up To Fight Next National Dump

Anti-Nuclear Victory in Texas Stuns Industry (Briefly)

by Erin Rogers, Institute for Global Communications

On September 19, 1995, Congress blind-sided the nuclear industry and its government accomplices by voting 243 to 176 against a plan to allow Maine, Vermont, and practically anyone else to dump their radioactive waste in Texas. The Compact Bill (HR 558) was expected to slide through Congress without debate or controversy, just as the nine other existing Compacts in the US have. But grassroots activists stopped the compact—an historic first.

Passage of the bill would have virtually assured a radioactive waste dump in Sierra Blanca, Texas, a predominantly Chicano and low-income community. The proposed dump site is 16 miles from the Rio Grande—the US/Mexican border—in an active earthquake zone. Leaks at the dump (shallow dirt trenches using earth as the floor and the cover) could lead to contamination of the groundwater and the Rio Grande. Sierra Blanca is already host to the nation's largest sewage sludge dump, at which 250 tons a day of New York City sewage is sprayed over 100,000 acres of the beautiful Chihuahuan desert adjacent to the town.

Our stance remains NO COMPROMISE—NO COMPACT!

The Border Coalition Against Radiation Dumping and many other grassroots groups and individuals from across Texas were able to pressure US Representatives Bonilla (R-Hudspeth County), Doggett (D-Austin), Bryant (D-Dallas), and Coleman (D-El Paso) into arguing strongly against the bill during floor debate in the full House. The resounding international opposition to the Compact Bill was voiced in letter-writing and post card campaigns, town meetings, political theater, marches, art exhibits, civil disobediance, and the passage of anti-dump resolutions by four West Texas counties, six Texas cities, Ciudad Juarez, and the Mexican states of Coahuila and Chihuahua. Residents of Hudspeth County deserve special credit for pushing Rep. Bonilla to take a stand against the bill. Many believe that it was his Dear Colleague letters and eloquent speech on the floor that swayed other Congresspeople to vote against the bill.

The celebration has been short-lived. The lobbyists are already gearing up for the next round, inundating Congress with pro-Compact propaganda and hoping to use amendments to win more votes. Evidence is mounting that the bill's sponsors, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R- Maine) and Rep. Jack Fields (R-Texas) are scheming to bring the monster back for another vote, possibly as early as next month. Our stance remains NO COMPROMISE—NO COMPACT!

Texas Governor George Bush and other pro-dump politicians have ignored the basic concerns of their constituents at the behest of the nuclear industry. The Texas senators, Hutchison and Gramm, refuse to publicly support the unpopular Compact bill while simultaneously working for its passage behind closed doors. A January 1995 report written by a lobbyist for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, obtained under the Texas Open Records Act, states that "Sen. Hutchison indicated that she would not openly support the bill but would visit with Olympia Snowe and help with passage behind the scenes."

The hard-fought anti-Compact campaign is a big victory on the road to stopping the creation of a state-run nuclear dump. It is a mandate from the people of Texas and Mexico not to resort to quick-fix dumping that will result in unimaginable costs to our health in the future. The initial defeat of the Compact is much more than just another Congressional vote. It is a symbol of the power of a people who refuse to give in to corporate greed and racism. We should not allow high-paid lobbyists and morally bankrupt Senators to take that victory away from us now.

What Happens If the Compact Fails?
The Plight of Andrews County

Without the $50 million dollars from Maine and Vermont and the assurance of high volumes of waste that the Compact offers, Texas may find that it is not economically feasible to build a dump in Sierra Blanca. Throwing Texas' waste disposal situation further into uncertainty is the emergence on the scene of Waste Control Specialists (WCS), a private company vying for the state's low-level radioactive waste business. WCS has a 1,300 acre tract in Andrews County (where the Panhandle turns east and heads toward El Paso), directly abutting the New Mexico border. WCS has already receieved permits from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) and the Environmental Protection Agency to dispose of 2,000 different types of hazardous waste and PCBs there. WCS hopes to import waste from all over the US and from Mexican maquiladoras. The WCS permit was the first commercial permit for both hazardous waste and PCBs issued in the US in the last 10 years.

During the last session of the Texas legislature, WCS attempted to change the state law which stipulates that only a state-owned entity can dispose of low-level waste. They were attempting to corner the market on mixed waste (a mixture of low-level radioactive and hazardous wastes) and low-level radioactive waste disposal. Currently, EnviroCare of Utah is the only other company in the US that handles mixed waste.

During the melee of the final days of the legislative session, one Representative caused a small state crisis by proposing that the state just move its dump from Sierra Blanca to Andrews County. Luckily, their bill failed, (due to tremndous grassroots pressure coupled with abnormally high levels of corrupt industry lobbying resulting in bribery charges). WCS has decided to go directly to the TNRCC for permits, hoping that the traditionally lax agency will give them the go-ahead.

As if all this waste disposal weren't enough, the company also expects to build incinerators and other waste processing facilities at the site, and has big plans for becoming a "technology, research, development, and commercailization center" in partnership with federal nuclear laboratories, universities, and private industry.

WCS literature states that

WCS is NOT a dumping ground. It is a commercialization ground that will NEVER exist again in the opportunity annals of West Texas. It is a unique opportunity for the children of West Texas to aspire to be something other than prison guards.

It's questionable whether or not more than a few generations of children will survive in the area if the dump begins to operate. The WCS site lies above the Ogallala/High Plains aquifers. The High Plains aquifer is the main source of potable water for the region, and lies about 150 from the surface, beneath permeable sand and caliche.

The Border Coalition Against Radiation Dumping is currently strategizing on how to best fight both dumps. We need help! We have witnessed the power of a determined movement and have come closer than anyone ever imagined to stopping the dump proposed for Sierra Blanca. Now is the time to redouble our efforts, build on our successes, and shut down the nuclear industry in Texas and the nation.

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