State approves radioactive waste dump
Company seeks additional license for site in far West Texas; groups say site would pose health hazards.

By Asher Price
Thursday, May 22, 2008

The state environmental agency Wednesday approved a proposal to build a radioactive waste dump in West Texas.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality decided to issue a license for Waste Control Specialists to build a dump near the border with New Mexico for the disposal of radioactive waste related to Cold War-era uranium processing. Waste Control has applied for a second license, which it hopes to receive next year, for another radioactive waste dump on the same property to bury low-level radioactive material such as medical waste. Eventually, the company also could bury radioactive byproducts from uranium mining on the site.

The dump will be the first of its kind in Texas. Currently, uranium mining operations in Texas send the radioactive byproduct for burial in Utah and Wyoming.

The dumping of the waste could begin as early as spring 2009, said Rodney Baltzer, president of Waste Control Specialists.

In a statement, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said Waste Control had earned community support through "good science, good geology and open communication."

Environmental groups and former employees of the state environmental agency who reviewed the Waste Control application have said that the dump poses serious health hazards and that the company's application is incomplete.

The Sierra Club requested another hearing on the license, and Commissioner Larry Soward said one was warranted, in part "to clear the air" about suggestions in the media that the commission had repressed information relating to the application. In March, the American-Statesman reported that the agency refused to release some internal memos about the waste dump application. The state attorney general's office ordered some of the material to be released.

Soward was outvoted by the environmental agency's two other commissioners.

Waste Control Specialists is owned by investor Harold Simmons, the third-largest contributor to Gov. Rick Perry in the 2006 election cycle. All three environmental commissioners were appointed by Perry.

The decision "really stinks," said Rose Gardner, a florist in Eunice, N.M., across the border from Andrews County. "It's hard to grow flowers in radioactive dirt."

The Sierra Club could ask for a commission rehearing or appeal in state district court.

Officials with Waste Control Specialists, which had applied in 2004 for the license to dispose of the radioactive material and spent millions of dollars in testing and lobbying, were pleased with the decision.; 445-3643

Note: emphasis added