In a significant victory for landowners and environmentalists yesterday, a state District Court judge overturned a three year old decision by the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) which would have denied nearby residents and the Sierra Club the right to a contested case hearing over a radioactive waste dump just north of Midland. Two weeks ago, the dump, operated by Waste Control Specialists LLC and owned by uber-republican donor Harold Simmons, won final approval to begin accepting “low-level” nuclear waste (low-level does not mean not dangerous) from 36 states across the country. The ruling mandates a new TCEQ hearing where two neighbors of the dump can prove how they are impacted by the dump and why the site is flawed.
Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lonestar Chapter of the Sierra Club, spoke about the judge’s decision:
[The ruling is] a stunning rebuke of TCEQ's decision to deny citizens the right to show how dangerous radioactive disposal would be in West Texas. This ruling confirms what we have been saying all along. The Sierra Club and its members in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico deserve the opportunity to show that radioactive waste dumped at the WCS site could impact people in the area through airborne radioactive particles and potential groundwater contamination.
The dump has been particularly controversial in recent weeks after State Rep Lou Burnam (Ft Worth) released previously confidential documents proving that several wells drilled near the site contained significantly more water than they should have. One of these wells sits over the vast Ogalalla Aquifer, the largest underground water feature in the US. The new hearing will allow lawyers for the Sierra Club to present this evidence before the TCEQ. Two of the three TCEQ commissioners are Rick Perry appointees.
Rose Gardner, one of contestants in the case and a rancher who lives within 4 miles of the dump, was grateful for the decision, “I'm very glad about the judge's decision today, since we'll now have a hearing where we can fully examine radioactive risks to our land and water. We now have more livestock than ever before and having the WCS radioactive waste dump nearby threatens our health and safety.”
Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of the Texas Office of Public Citizen talks about the man behind the steaming pile of radioactive waste:
This case is of national significance because the dump's biggest investor is Harold Simmons, one of the largest contributors to Republican political campaigns and attack ads. He helped to fund the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” and the “Obama is a Muslim” attack ads. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Simmons has spent $18 million so far this election cycle and plans to spend a total of $36 million before the end of this cycle. Why would he spend that kind of money? The amount and types of waste could be vastly expanded by a Republican President or Congress thus increasing the amount of money Simmons can make off of the dump and increasing the funds he has available to donate to future political campaigns. And if anyone doubts that his political spending will pay off in favorable treatment, all they have to do is look at how successful he's been in Texas.
Harold Simmons is such a nice guy, he was once sued by his own daughters for making illegal political contributions in their names. He was also the primary backer of Oliver North’s and John Poindexter’s legal defense fund during the Iran-Contra Affair, and has been fined repeatedly for exceeding campaign contribution limits.