TCEQ Approves Nuclear Waste Site Expansion Despite Environmental Concerns

Categories: Environment

Waste Control Specialists
The TCEQ voted to triple capacity and cut liability insurance requirements for a West Texas radioactive dump.

In a quiet, private vote yesterday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality voted to approve a Dallas-based chemical waste management company's request to triple capacity at its West Texas disposal site. Waste Control Specialists had proposed that it site grow from 2.3 million cubic feet to 9 million cubic feet. State regulators are also slashing the amount required for liability insurance.

In recent years, WCS faced a major lawsuitseeking to remove its operating license. The Sierra Club, among other environmental activists, claimed that its Texas Compact Waste Facility in Andrews County was located too close to a major aquifer and there were concerns of potential groundwater contamination. Although the company was assured of its license last April, the facility has remained a point of contention between environmental advocates and WCS.

Earlier this summer, fresh from their legal victory and restored reputation, WCS proposed to triple capacity on the facility and cut liability insurance. The three-member commission voted unanimously yesterday, without hearing any oral arguments, to expand the nuclear and radioactive waste dump.

Some legislators find the lack of argument the most infuriating aspect of the move. "In order to max the polluters' profit margins, they are reducing the citizen's public input. Since they had already made up their mind, why waste their time with public input?" says the recently ousted Representative Lon Burnam, a longtime environmental advocate in the Legislature. "This has been a calamity from the word 'go.'"

WCS is dismissing critics, saying that the move is a necessary growth in state waste storage. "They're picking a fight with us that we have nothing to do with. We're not creating the waste. Whether you think it's a good thing or bad thing is irrelevant, that waste exists," says Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for the WCS. "To be angry at us for taking an existing problem and helping alleviate it is laughable. Anyone that takes that criticism seriously is deluding themselves."

At current count, the site is only marginally filled with radioactive waste. But WCS claims that an expansion of the site could be necessary in future years.

The TCEQ also approved slashed insurance requirements for the site. WCS had to pay $136 million to the state to cover liability claims, and requested to scale that back to $80 million. The argument is that the previous allotted amount was too much for the size and scope of the site, and that the original amount was an unnecessary and wasteful price tag.

But the move is not so cut and dry. Beginning in 2011, Texas opened up to receiving radioactive waste from 36 other states. With dramatically increased material, business is booming for WCS and the Texas Compact Waste Facility. And with more hazardous material combined with less funds to bail the site out of potential trouble, environmental advocates across the state are in an uproar.

"It's a very concerning major amendment. The volume is one concern, that's the amount of waste they can take on the site," says Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Sierra Club, who was also involved in the lawsuit against WCS. "The ramifications are that we're expanding the volume and type of waste. We're taking in hotter and hotter waste."

With lowered insurance, the state would be responsible for any accidents or groundwater contamination that might occur near the site which exceeds the altered insurance amount. "I hope to God there's no problem, and it doesn't leak into the groundwater," Reed says.

"We can't guarantee that though. This stuff has a history of causing problems," he says. "And ultimately there's going to be a lot of long-lasting waste out there thats going to have to be monitored for hundreds of years. You can't just bury this stuff and expect it not to have consequences."

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TheRuddSki topcommenter

In time, Texans will glow in the dark.


Texas will be trying to recover from Rick Perry's executive callowness for a very long time.

ScottsMerkin topcommenter

Wait, so they get to store more dangerous shit and pay less insurance in case of an accident, that sounds about right.  Jesus what  backwards clusterfuck decisions this state makes sometimes.

mavdog topcommenter

"Whether you think it's a good thing or bad thing is irrelevant, that waste exists," says Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for the WCS. "To be angry at us for taking an existing problem and helping alleviate it is laughable"

what is "laughable" Chuck is your use of the word "alleviate". your firm does nothing of the sort, it is not reducing the amount of waste, it is not in any way making the waste less of a hazard.

All your firm does is move the waste from one point to another, and in this case you are moving waste from other parts of the country and putting the waste here in Texas.

I know that others are as shocked as I am that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the application...but shouldn't we just recognize reality and change their name to Texas Commission on Environmental Inequality?

Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

November 2011, TCEQ allowed Waste Control to use 12 million shares of Titanium Metals Corp., another Simmons company, to provide financial assurance for the dump.

Eventually, in November, another company purchased Titanium Metals for $2.9 billion. Simmons now uses 9.8 million shares of Kronos, another of his companies, to secure the dump.


@mavdog Actually, burying the waste at the WCS facility in Andrews County is making it MUCH less of a hazard. That is the whole point (from a waste management point of view.) If WCS and Andrews County and the State of Texas make money helping solve radioactive waste disposal problems, well, then, bully for them. 

But we should be clear that the WCS site is going a long way to solving the problem of where to safely dispose of radioactive waste.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

@mavdog "....

That is one of the duties of the Office, and to be in charge of the Executive Branch as they see fit.

The Constitution grants the President the ability to run the Federal Government per se, and to mandate policy of the Departments (the Executive Order right is not explicit but implicit).

Congress contros the purse, they can force conduct on a Dept. in that manner, and can override any directive of the President should they see fit to do such.

That is how the Constituion calls for it. They call it "3 branches of government" for a reason..."  -mavdog 2-days ago.

This scenario is exactly why I was having trouble digesting your arguments the other day.  When you give the Executive the de facto power to create law (through regulation), you wind up with the TCEQ.  You wind up with government doing things without public debate, without public input, that directly affect the public.  Carry it far enough, and you wind up with taxation without representation, and we know where that leads. 

Yes, it is called the "3 branches" for a reason: to keep any one branch, most especially the Executive branch, from running unchecked.  Executive branch bureaucracies that enact regulations that carry the force of law are a serious breach of the separation of powers.  I was amazed that you couldn't see that the other day.  Now I see that when Executive action is something you disagree with, you do see the need for separation of power.

mavdog topcommenter


how is burying the radioactive waste reducing its negative characteristics?

your positon (it seems to me, correct me if wrong) is by putting the waste in a largely uninhabited area it isn't much of a hazard to very many people.

however, it remains a hazard to anyone who comes into contact or too close proximity, and it still can affect any wildlife that comes into contact or too close proximity, and it can still leach into the aquifer....

do not see how with those facts it is any less of a hazard.

mavdog topcommenter


wow RT, the leap you make is suitable to get you a medal in the next Olympic Games...

The TCEQ is a State regulatory Agency, empowered by the Texas Legislature to act according to its mandate and mission statement:
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality strives to protect our state's public health and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development. Our goal is clean air, clen water, and the safe management of waste.

the Commissioners are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the TX Senate. The TCEQ controversy has ZERO to do with the Federal separation of powers, NOTHING analogous to the separation of powers between the 3 branches of the Federal or State Government. BTW the Executive Branch is not "unchecked" as the other 2 branches have the ability to rescind an EO (which they have done in the past).

Should the Texas Legislature grow a pair balls and actually decide to regulate businesses that endanger the citizens of our state, they could easily make TCEQ conduct its affairs in conformance with its mission statement. Unfortunately the TX Legislature does not choose to do such and is in fact walking in lock step with the TCEQ. The TCEQ is a direct extension of the legislature's use of their power.

The TCEQ not doing its job to protect TX residents isn't a "need for separation of powers", it shows a need for TX State agencies to actually do their job protecting Texas citizens, rather than protecting Texas businesses.

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