Texas Toxic Dump Site May Benefit from Owner's Political Largesse

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by
Common Dreams

Texas Toxic Dump Site May Benefit from Owner's Political Largesse

Nation's radioactive waste may soon be traveling at rapid pace to Texas disposal site

by
Common Dreams staff

Harold Simmons (Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

A toxic waste disposal site owned by Texas billionaire Harold Simmons -- one of the GOP's largest donors in the 2012 primary season, and the largest single donor to Karl Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads -- has environmentalists, and at least one Texas state representative, very concerned over the risk of transporting huge quantities of hazardous material across the state and what impact the waste itself could have on groundwater supplies once it arrives. 

If Simmons gets his way, toxic materials -- including medical waste, low-level radiated materials, and even depleted uranium -- from up to thirty-six states could end up at the Texas Compact Disposal Facility in remote west Texas.

"Texas is going to become a nuclear waste dump if everything happens under their plans," state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We will be the major route for nuclear waste."

"We continue to have concerns about the site itself and whether or not there is enough protection ... and whether there will be contamination of the water," said Karen Hadden, executive director of the statewide SEED Coalition environmental group, according to the Star-Telegram report. "Once radioactivity gets into groundwater, it's a difficult thing to clean up and it can get into the millions and billions of dollars."

Simmons has invested huge sums into the political process in hopes that he can ease regulations on the dumping of nuclear and other toxic wastes. “Whatever federal switch has to be thrown to get uranium into the hole, believe me, it will be thrown; that’s how Harold Simmons works,” Glenn Lewis, a former Texas environmental employee who retired in protest over Simmons’s influence-peddling, told Bloomberg news recently.

Simmons has been outspoken about his disdain for the President Obama, and he has spread his large political contributions relatively evenly among the GOP contenders. “Any of these Republicans would make a better president than that socialist, Obama,” Simmons told the Wall Street Journal recently. “Obama is the most dangerous American alive.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegraph: Radioactive waste may soon travel on DFW highways

Huge numbers of trucks carrying low-level radioactive waste from dozens of states will soon travel highways nationwide -- including those in the Metroplex -- on their way to a remote disposal site in West Texas.

Shipments from up to 36 states will head to a dump in Andrews County near the New Mexico border, owned by Dallas billionaire and generous Republican political donor Harold Simmons, despite concerns from environmentalists and others worried about potential accidents or contamination once the loads are left at the Waste Control Specialists facility. [...]

"I am absolutely concerned about the transportation of the materials, about the high volume of nuclear waste traveling on our interstates through areas such as Fort Worth and Dallas," he said. "I think it's a really bad idea to have that much nuclear waste rolling down our interstates unguarded."

The first shipments, possibly this month, will likely come from the state's two nuclear plants, Comanche Peak near Glen Rose and the South Texas project in Matagorda County. Truckloads of contaminated waste from other states, which require a formal application process and approval, could start by summer.

Officials aren't publicly outlining the shipment routes, although many say loads are likely to cross major highways in North Texas as dangerous materials already do.

In the past eight years, 72 incidents nationwide involving trucks carrying radioactive material on highways have caused $2.4 million in damage and one death, the Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says.

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Salon.com: The GOP’s nuke-dump donor

Unlike fellow mega-donors Foster Friess and Sheldon Adelson, Simmons isn’t partial to any single candidate or political cause. He’s given generously to the super PACs backing all the top Republican presidential contenders. And he’s the No. 1 donor to Karl Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, which is supporting Republicans across the board. Simmons says it’s his loathing for Barack Obama that’s driving him to spread his money around. “Any of these Republicans would make a better president than that socialist, Obama,” he told the Wall Street Journal recently. “Obama is the most dangerous American alive.”

But there may be another motive at work. Simmons has a history of giving far and wide to grease the wheels for his business ventures — particularly his nuclear waste repository. And a raft of changes in the pipeline at federal agencies could determine whether the site is eligible for billions of dollars in new contracts.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for example, is considering allowing depleted uranium (more than a half-million tons of which are languishing at sites around the country) to be discarded in shallow land burial sites, like WCS, even though the National Research Council and some independent scientists suggest it’s better suited to more secure repositories. Similarly, the Department of Energy is weighing options for disposing of what is known as “greater-than-class-C” waste, the most radioactive low-level nuclear debris. In the past, it was generally considered too dangerous to dump in shallow land sites, but that route is now on the table.

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Bloomberg: Republican Donor Simmons Seeks Rule to Fill Texas Dump

Harold Simmons built a West Texas dump for radioactive waste that is bigger than 1,000 football fields and he can’t fill it.

To turn it into a profitable enterprise, the Texas billionaire hired lobbyists to urge the Obama administration to expand the types of nuclear waste, including depleted uranium, the dump can accept and award his company disposal contracts. If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changes the rule, it could open access to a market worth billions. The deadline for a decision is in 2014.

Simmons now is spending money in a new way that could improve his business prospects: He’s invested $15.9 million this election cycle in various groups to help elect Republicans, who advocate easing regulations on the nuclear industry.

The largest chunk of Simmons’s campaign cash -- $12 million -- has gone to American Crossroads, a so-called super political action committee that takes unlimited donations and has a stated mission of defeating President Barack Obama. He has given at least $700,000 to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination whose call for a fast-tracked permitting process for new nuclear plants could benefit Simmons’s Waste Control Specialists LLC.

“Whatever federal switch has to be thrown to get uranium into the hole, believe me, it will be thrown; that’s how Harold Simmons works,” said Glenn Lewis, a former Texas environmental employee who retired in protest to Simmons’s influence in the state permitting process for his dump.

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