Texas appealing to other states for radioactive trash, looks to expand program

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When it comes to nuclear waste, many states have a not-in-my-backyard attitude.

But Texas is rolling out the welcome mat.

A measure that would allow three-dozen states to dump even hotter radioactive waste at a West Texas nuclear facility is picking up steam as it makes its way through the state legislature -- despite growing opposition from environmental groups who argue the economic incentives shouldn’t trump public safety concerns.

Introduced by Republican Sen. Kel Seliger, the “low-level radioactive waste bill” encourages other states to send waste with higher concentrations of radioactivity to the 1,300-acre waste burial ground in Andrews County. The bill would keep the maximum volume allowed at the site the same but change the type of material allowed, Seliger told FoxNews.com Tuesday.

"The majority of the items are safe," Seliger said. "The county and the state of Texas has a lot to gain."

The bill highlights how, in Texas, nuclear waste storage has become big business.

During the last legislative session, Texas lawmakers approved the plan to allow waste from more than three dozen states to be buried on the land owned by Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists. Currently, toxic oil-tainted sludge dredged from the Hudson River in New York as well as Cold War-era radioactive waste from an Ohio uranium-processing plant is already buried at the site located near the Texas-New Mexico border.

If Texas lawmakers agree to up the concentration of contaminants, the county and state could receive a considerable boost in money they’d get from Waste Control Specialists. In theory, states and businesses would pay more to send the higher levels of radioactive material to Texas. The company would make more money and in turn the amount it paid the county (5 percent) and the state (25 percent) from its quarterly revenues would also rise.

But according to the Texas Campaign for the Environment, the money made should not be a trade-off for public safety. The group claims politics are to blame.

“To be clear, this proposal is being pushed to directly financially benefit one of the largest campaign contributors involved in Texas politics: billionaire Harold Simmons of Waste Control Specialists who has donated millions of dollars to Gov. Rick Perry and other politicians who are supporting this legislation,” program director Zac Trahan told FoxNews.com. “His company stands to earn millions of dollars by turning part of our state into a radioactive waste site which will be poisoned for generations to come.”

Calls made to Waste Control Specialists for comment were not immediately returned.

Asked about the claim, Seliger said: "I don't know anything about that."

Seliger’s bill also promotes sending low-level waste, known as Class A, out of Texas for burial while upping the annual curie limit -- which refers to the radiation level -- for the state to 300,000 from 220,000. The higher level would allow locations that have Class B or Class C levels of waste to ship it to the Lone Star State for disposal.

The Senate version of the new bill removed a provision that limited Texans from challenging permits to the plant granted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

A similar bill is making its way through the Texas House. That version, filed by Rep. Drew Darby, goes a step further and not only limits citizen challenges in Texas but also bars people from other states from challenging Waste Control’s licenses.

The closest populated town to the site is Eunice, N.M.

Darby’s chief of staff, Jason Modglin, told the Texas Observer the legislation was written to streamline “a burdensome process.”