Legislation to ban high-level nuclear waste from the state of Texas is now law, with Gov. Greg Abbott signing the law on Thursday after passing both houses of the Texas Legislature with wide margins of bipartisan support during the second extraordinary session.

House Bill 7 by Representative Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) was tabled in response to an effort to bring high-level radioactive waste from the country to a low-level radioactive material disposal facility in Andrews County – with strong opposition from residents and local elected officials demanding that legislation banning the equipment be filed.


Texas House gave final approval for the legislation with 119 representatives voting in favor.

This, combined with the unanimous support the bill received in the Senate, allowed the legislation to come into effect immediately after receiving the governor’s signature. Abbott’s office did not release a statement on signing the bill on Friday.

Waste Control Specialists, which currently operates the low-level waste facility at Andrews, has applied for a federal permit from the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to import and store several types of nuclear waste that are significantly more radioactive than the facility. is currently licensed to shop.

Opponents say the waste WCS seeks to dispose of poses both a danger to the environment and the oil industry, as well as a significant threat to national security.

While opponents have been receptive to Landgraf’s stated intention to ban “high-level” radioactive waste, some say his legislation has significant loopholes that need to be addressed, loopholes that have sparked multiple clashes between the government. representing Tom Craddick of Midland and Landgraf on the matter. .

Background

The Andrews waste facility officially began the application process in 2015, with WCS sending a letter to the NRC indicating its intention to apply for a license to store nuclear waste derived from power plants across the country.

It was initially stated that the purpose of the permit was to seek authorization to store up to 40,000 tonnes of waste, mainly spent nuclear fuel rods, which would be transported and stored in the facility for 40 to 100 years.

At the time, Landgraf took a neutral stance on the issue, saying he looked forward to working with residents and officials of Andrews to ensure that health and safety concerns for all in the area. region were taken into account throughout the discussion surrounding the request.

Landgraf’s recent predecessor at the time, Tyron Lewis, opposed the effort and said he “didn’t think (high-level waste) was the site’s raison d’être.”

Opponents pointed out that it was originally promised that the site would only ever be a low-level waste facility.

Past controversy

Landgraf has had an active relationship with WCS over the years, with the Waste Facility and its senior officials have given thousands of campaign contributions directly to Landgraf in the past. WCS has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to influence the legislature.

In turn, Landgraf has tabled several pieces of legislation in favor of WCS that have sparked controversy, including two similar recent examples.

In 2019, Landgraf reportedly asked former State Representative Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) to make an amendment described as a financial giveaway to WCS to an unrelated bill intended to help victims of domestic violence .

The legislation, Senator Lois Kolkhorst’s (R-Brenham) Senate Bill 1804 would have given law enforcement tools to track domestic abusers released on bail, offering greater protection to their victims.

Landgraf’s amendment to the bill, which would have given WCS a reduction in state fees to the tune of approximately $ 4.2 million, killed domestic violence victim protection legislation after Abbott vetoed the legislation, citing the addition of the amendment as a reason.

“The Senate Bill 1804 was a laudable effort to tackle domestic violence until someone slipped into a reckless gift at a radioactive waste disposal facility,” Abbott wrote in his official statement from veto. “Unfortunately, the good idea of ​​the author of the Domestic Violence Bill has been dragged down by the bad idea of ​​radioactive waste.”

Fast forward to this year, Landgraf again included the royalty reduction provisions buried in the details of his controversial legislation which he titled as banning high level nuclear waste (HB 2692).

Legislative analysis on HB 2692 estimated that Landgraf’s latest attempts to reduce state fees on WCS would amount to a loss of $ 798,000 in general revenue for the state, and a loss of $ 2.3 million. for the “Environmental Outreach and Perpetual Care Account”, for the WCS total benefit of nearly $ 3.1 million.

The Environmental Radiation and Perpetual Care account that Landgraf’s bill allegedly funded is an account that was created to retain a portion of WCS’s profits to ensure that clean-up efforts can be funded in the event of a leak for which WCS is not. not able to pay.

Instead of being celebrated by opponents of high-level nuclear waste, legislation has opposed it.

Bill ultimately died after Craddick invoked the Legislation Settlement, pointing out that the bill’s multiple provisions violated the one-subject rule of the Texas Constitution and wrote that he had “serious concerns.” concerning the bill.

Second special session

As the NRC was due to announce on Monday whether it would grant the high-level waste permit to WCS, opponents of the permit, including Abbott, have added the issue to the agenda of the second special session of the Texas Legislature. .

Landgraf has again been asked to table legislation dealing with the issue, this time by tabling legislation (HB 7) which only talks about banning “high level” radioactive waste and excluding financial benefits granted to WCS. .

But the controversy around this bill continues.

Fasken Oil and Ranch, along with the Permian Basin Coalition and Craddick, argued that Landgraf’s HB7 uses the term “high activity” in the context of the federal regulatory definition, which is narrower than the broader concept of nuclear waste from Landgraf. high activity.

“WCS is looking for a class higher than class C” (GTCC) from reactors in operation and decommissioned. They’re called higher-class reactor-related waste, and they’re more radioactive than anything Andrews County has ever agreed to store, ”said Monica Perales, lawyer at Fasken Oil and Ranch.

“There is no room for error on the part of the Texas legislature,” Craddick wrote in a statement he released after Landgraf rescinded a Craddick amendment that sought to include the based GTCC. on a reactor in Landgraf’s latest bill.

“[T]The Landgraf bill is nothing more than a mistake that fails to block spent nuclear fuel and waste from reactors above Class C, ”Craddick said,“ The message must be clear : Texas is not the place of storage of this highly toxic waste.

Defending the scope of his legislation, Landgraf wrote on Facebook saying that the Andrews community’s point of view was formally reflected in the Andrews County Commissioner’s court resolution and that he “had filed a law in accordance with the clear will of the people “. He also said the legislation does not provide for a “mirror ban” on the NRC’s pending license and that it was not intended to do so, but instead said it reflects the Commissioner’s resolution. county.

Landgraf went on to say that the reactor-related GTCC is not high-level radioactive waste according to federal or state definitions, and that if the Andrews community wants it banned, he will take action to do so. in the future, despite rejecting Craddick’s amendment.

An NRC staff report published in July recommended that the NRC approve the pending application to allow the transfer of spent nuclear fuel, GTCC and “small quantities” of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel from nuclear sites. existing reactors and storage during the 40-year license period. before a permanent repository is available.

The state of Texas has officially made a statement of opposition to WCS’s federal request for the storage and transportation of high-level waste with the passage of HB7.

What remains to be seen is what action the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take next week regarding the licensing of WCS given the state’s stance against high-level waste. The NRC is expected to announce its decision on Monday.

Online: https://odessaheadlines.com/

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