AUSTIN Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) introduced a bill Tuesday that would increase the limit of nonparty radioactive waste allowed in the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact waste disposal facility in Andrews County.
HB 1653 would allow 220,000 rather than 120,000 curies (a curie is a unit of radioactivity) of nonparty compact waste to be exported into the facility.
The Texas Compact Facility is the only radioactive waste facility in Texas. It opened last year and is owned and licensed by the state of Texas, and operated by Waste Control Specialists.
Currently, 70 percent of the capacity is used for Texas and Vermont, part of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, and stores Class A low-level radioactive waste. The remaining 30 percent would be used for imported, more radioactive, Class B and C nonparty waste.
The bill would also change the definition of an affected person with regard to the low-level radioactive waste disposal facility as “either a resident of Andrews County or an adjacent Texas county, and is doing business in or has a legal interest in land in those counties.”
This stipulation has raised some eyebrows, seeing as Andrews County is on the border of Texas and New Mexico and the proximity of the facility is very close to New Mexico residents who will not have the privilege to appeal as an affected person.
Similar to HB 791 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), the bill would increase the amount of waste, subsequently increasing the amount of revenue for the General Revenue-Dedicated Low-Level Waste Account by $2.8 million each fiscal year.
The difference with Darby’s bill is that it would prohibit the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from seeking public comment or holding a public hearing on “minor amendments.” A “minor amendment” is one that changes the “type, volume or concentration limits of wastes to be received” to the extent that there is no increase in total volume and curie capacities. A “minor amendment” is also identified as the authorization of new technologies or process that requires an engineering review, as long as that technology or process does not pose a “potential detrimental impact on public health and safety, worker safety, or environmental health.”
The bill would allow that the terms of a compact waste disposal license would remain in effect and operations continue even if there is judicial intervention, as well as allow the TCEQ and license holder to enter into a compliance agreement until the court determines that the TCEQ has repaired all procedural issues.
In effect, Rep. Darby’s bill would make it easier for more radioactive, nonparty waste to be exported into the Andrew County facility, which would then also generate more revenue for the county and the state. Additionally, the bill would make it harder for concerned parties to have a voice in regards to new activities and importation of waste into the facility, especially if they do not meet the requirements of an affected person.
William Lindquist, CEO of WCS testified in favor of the bill, saying it is an “appropriate” follow-up to last sessions HB 1504 authored by Rep. Tryon Lewis (R-Odessa) and Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) which allowed the facility to begin operations.
“This bill will allow greater flexibility to dispose of non-compact waste in the remaining 30 percent,” Lindquist said.
HB 1653 will ensure that new accounts are attained, with a projected $16 million gain in nonparty waste with the passage of the bill.
“This bill will keep our 180 people working as well, and make sure that we can operate at full strength, at the one-of-a-kind facility,” said Lindquist.
The goal of the facility is to get aggregate waste from around the country and contain it into a place that’s environmentally safe.
Much of the testimony heard during the hearing was on the potential for a greater negative
environmental impact in the area, as well as the ability for the executive director to change the licenses without public input.
Karen Hadden of The Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition testified against the bill with serious concerns.
“Does this really fit with what was originally licensed anymore, or is this a forced licensed expansion either now or in the future?” Hadden said. “I’m concerned that it limits the waste from Texas and Vermont, those are the two states that this was presumably built for.”
“We should be including amendments that provide for transportation routes across the state — it’s federally required, it’s in our state law and it’s not happened,” Hadden said.
Lindquist assured during his testimony that of the 11,000 shipments that have been made within the facilities operations, only eight accidents have occurred with no resulting exposures.
Lindquist also called the bill “a work in progress” and that negotiations are still needed, which was one thing all the opposing testimony had in common.
Emma Petty is a correspondent covering the 83rd Legislature in Austin.
Emma Petty is a correspondent covering the 83rd Legislature in Austin for the Odessa American.