History: Waste Management

Promote policies to reduce the generation and promote the reuse and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes.

LWV-TX Action: Under this national position, LWV-TX has taken action on both municipal solid waste and hazardous waste issues.

1980's: Since the adoption of the position in 1973, the state League has worked for passage of container deposit legislation, actively participating in the Association for Beverage Container Deposits (ABCD,) publishing an Advocacy Paper in 1987, and submitting legislative testimony in 1989, to no avail. In 1983, the League helped draft the Comprehensive Municipal Solid Waste Management, Resource Recovery, and Conservation Act and served on a related Texas Department of Health advisory committee.

LWV-TX advocacy for proper hazardous waste management began in the 1970's and intensified in 1980 when Texas first sought EPA authorization to implement the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In 1981, the League obtained a grant from LWVUS and sponsored an educational workshop and tour of hazardous waste management facilities in the Houston area. League legislative and administrative action in 1981-83 focused on the need for more stringent criteria for siting new facilities.

In the interim before the 1985 legislative session the League testified on hazardous materials transportation and on siting-related issues and used the sunset review process to request additional public participation opportunities and enforcement powers for the agencies that regulate hazardous waste. During this interim, a state League director served on the Governor's Hazardous Waste Task Force which drafted consensus recommendations that led to passage of comprehensive hazardous waste legislation addressing most of the issues of concern to the League. Sunset reauthorization of the Texas Water Commission (TWC) gave the agency the power to assess penalties administratively. In 1986, the League intervened on behalf of the TWC and Texas Air Control Board in a lawsuit filed by the Texas Association of Business contesting the constitutionality of administrative penalty powers. The case was decided in 1989 in favor of the state agencies, a victory for the League. This decision was affirmed by the Texas Supreme Court.

During the mid-1980's, the League played an educational role on the controversial issue of hazardous waste incinerator ships, sending an observer aboard an incinerator ship in the North Sea, and participating in EPA briefings, as well as a Keystone Center national policy dialogue on the role of the oceans in hazardous waste management.

1985: The League completed the major part of the Keystone Education Project, a two-year League effort to educate communities about hazardous waste management and the Keystone citing process for community involvement in the citing of new hazardous waste facilities. The project included sponsorship of workshops in six industrial areas of the state and publication of informational materials as well as a training manual for those who serve on Keystone local review committees.

1986-87: The League commented on rules implementing the comprehensive hazardous waste legislation and fee system and lobbied for waste reduction. Legislative activity focused successfully on preservation of the joint and several liability clauses of hazardous waste laws during the legislative efforts to reform the tort law system.

1989: Since 1989, the League has been represented on the Waste Reduction Advisory Committee (WRAC), a policy advisory committee to the Texas Water Commission (TWC) and its successor agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC). The League supported a policy that would require industry to reduce waste at the source. In October 1990, the TWC adopted WRAC's policy on waste reduction, which required industry to move toward source reduction, to work toward recycling and neutralization of toxins, and to move away from injection wells, incineration, and land fills.

1991: In the 72nd Legislature, the League supported bills calling for waste reduction and pollution prevention. These included a comprehensive hazardous waste reduction and pollution prevention bill that passed, making significant changes in regulatory programs in Texas. This legislation called for a temporary moratorium on new permits for commercial hazardous waste facilities, a greater role in the siting process for citizens' groups, needs assessments, and requirements for source reduction.

The League has also been represented on Task Force 21: Waste Management Policy for the Future, a TNRCC (formerly TWC) advisory council made up of representatives of industry and environmental groups. The task force has worked on development of regulations to bring state agencies into compliance with existing law. See next section, PUBLIC PARTICIPATION, for more on Task Force 21.

In the 1991 session the League also supported an omnibus recycling bill, addressing many League concerns, which passed. The law charged the General Land Office with coordinating a recycling market development study, implementing a strategy for expanding markets, and developing and implementing a recycling awareness campaign.

1993 and 1995: Unfortunately, the sessions did not continue the progress made in 1991 toward pollution prevention, waste reduction, and recycling goals. Despite League opposition, bills were enacted in that limit the power of local governments to regulate what goes into their local solid waste streams and that encourage the environmentally unsound process of mixed municipal solid waste composting. The League has continued to monitor development of regulations to implement the comprehensive waste minimization and recycling legislation enacted in 1991. We have submitted comments on proposed composting regulations and the adoption process.

1999: Low-level nuclear waste disposal: Following denial by TNRCC of a permit for low level radioactive waste disposal at the state site near Sierra Blanca in west Texas, the legislature worked on and debated a bill that would have allowed private facilities to receive low level waste. The issues of disposal are complex and involve an interstate compact Texas has with Maine and Vermont, the licensing of private entities, siting issues, groundwater protection, full public disclosure and participation, as well as the kind and volume of waste. Following a public forum held by LWV-Midland and discussions with LWVUS, LWV-TX decided to oppose the legislation that failed to pass the legislature.

The bill would have mandated the use of "assured (above ground) isolation," an alternative to burial. Following the failure of the bill the governor used the pocket veto to remove the second year budget for the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority. The Agency's functions will be transferred to TNRCC. The issue of low level nuclear waste disposal will be an important interim issue as the state continues to look at the need for a low level waste disposal site, the type of disposal that can be used, and licensing and permitting issues.

2001: LWV-TX worked with other groups to defeat the Low-Level Nuclear Waste Bill, which would have created privately operated (for profit) waste disposal facilities in West Texas, left the state with liability, and possibly led to contamination of the Ogallala Aquifer. A number of serious questions were raised that helped bring about the bill's defeat: siting, liability, kind, source and amount of waste, problems of cleanup, and a total lack of public participation in addressing the concerns raised during the process.

2003: The 78th session will be known as the one in which Texas finally, after many years and sessions, adopted a low-level nuclear waste disposal bill (HB 1567) that was signed by the governor. One of the bad aspects of this bill will be the acceptance of mixed waste, which means a combination of hazardous waste and low-level radioactive waste, in particular federal mixed waste. The final bill kept the 6 million cubic yard cap on total federal waste, but increased the B and C cap to 600,000 cubic yards. Texas is now in line to become the dumping ground for the hottest "low-level" radioactive waste, even waste that is not allowed at the low- level site in Utah. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will permit a private facility and will began writing rules for the permitting in mid-July.

The League was not successful in killing or modifying the Low-level Radioactive Waste Disposal bill, but the positive is that we worked very well with members of a coalition, Beyond Nuclear Power. The League's improvements would have prohibited a private company from holding the license for long-term management, prohibited importation of out-of-state waste for storage, used assured isolation instead of below ground burial, minimized waste transport, kept waste near the site of generation, and increased the role of the public in decision making.

2005: The League of Women Voters of Texas held a Press Conference on February 28th in Austin with Representative Mike Villarreal, Representative Pete Gallego, Sierra Club, and Public Citizen to express support for the Representatives' legislation concerning the importation, storage, and disposal of low level nuclear waste in Texas.

HB 1656 (Villarreal) directed the governor-appointed Low Level Radioactive Waste Compact Commissioners to contract to accept waste only from the initial compact states (Texas, Vermont, or Maine). This would amend the existing law to close what is known as the Compact Loophole. As currently written, the existing law allows the Texas Compact Commission representing Texas and Vermont to enter into an agreement by majority vote with any person, state, regional body, or group of states to import low-level radioactive waste into the compact facility. The Compact Commission would consist of six commissioners from Texas and one commissioner from Vermont.

HCR85 (Gallego) requested that the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House of Representatives create a Joint Interim Committee to study issues relating to the importation of radioactive waste into Texas, and that this committee submit a full report including findings and recommendations to the 80th Texas Legislature in January 2007. Recent actions by the federal government and requests by the private company (Waste Control Specialists) applying to Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for a license to dispose of low level radioactive waste in west Texas have brought to light the expansiveness of Texas law when it comes to the importation, storage, and disposal of radioactive wastes. Currently two state agencies, TCEQ and the Texas State Department of Human Services (TSDHS) control the management and disposal of low-level radioactive waste. The Federal Government has reclassified the by-product from concentrating highly radioactive ore from the Congo as 11-e-2 waste, a low-level radioactive waste classification. This waste is managed by TSDHS, and Waste Control Specialist is in the process of requesting an amendment to their current Hazardous Waste License to bring this waste to west Texas. The 11-e-2 waste is in addition to the low level radioactive waste allowed by HB1567 (2003) permitting the disposal of both Compact and Federal waste by a private company in Texas. Since passage of that legislation another possible low-level radioactive waste stream has developed. A multi-national company, Louisiana Energy Services (LES), has applied for a license from the Federal Government to operate a uranium enrichment facility near Eunice, New Mexico. This facility would produce low-level radioactive waste which could be imported a few miles east into west Texas for disposal.

The issue is complex to begin with and has become more complex due to actions by the Federal government, a for-profit private company, and the expansively-written legislation from last session. Neither of these bills passed.

2006: TCEQ is reviewing the application for the Andrews County low-level disposal site.

2007: The LWV-TX achieved goals from the last three legislative sessions with the passage of SB 1604. Activities associated with storage, processing, and disposal that relate to uranium mining and radioactive waste will now be regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ.) Activities at the permitted low-level radioactive disposal site near Andrews, Texas will be monitored by TCEQ.

2011: Ultimately two bills passed in the 82nd Texas Legislative Session relating to "low-level" radioactive waste disposal at the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) site being constructed in Andrews County, TX. While the bills were a mixture of protections of the health and safety of people and the environment, many aspects are not healthy or safe for either. On the whole, the legislature opened Texas and the site to the liabilities of out-of-compact waste in a significant way that is ultimately expensive and unsafe for Texas.
SB 1504 (Seliger) allows out-of-compact radioactive waste to be imported with certain restrictions. It includes an annual limit by volume and by curies on how much waste may be imported, sets a total limit on how much of the site's capacity may be used for imported waste, directs TCEQ to study the anticipated capacity of the dump site, and clarifies TCEQ's authority related to importation. Additional sections of the bill dealt with other matters.

Improvements made in SB 1504 due to advocacy:

  • Changed the capacity study date to 2012 from 2014
  • Amended to ensure that WCS must amend their license to accept out-of-compact waste
  • Commissioned a financial assurance study which includes assessment for unplanned events or accidents to protect the State of Texas and local governments' budgets.

The LWV worked for improvements to SB 1504, but was not successful in all areas. Points that need to be addressed include: a capacity study before beginning importation of LLRW since the three existing studies are so varied, a transportation study to examine emergency preparedness and liability to the state and local governments for accidents resulting from increased shipments of radioactive waste on highways and railways, tighter limits that spread importation over the expected lifetime of the site, clarification of the ratemaking process, and a full study of dangers to nearby groundwater because the existing studies are inconsistent.

SB 1605 (Seliger) provides stronger guidance to the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, stating that it shall operate and be funded independently of TCEQ, requiring that bylaws be in place prior to the commission reviewing import applications. However this bill eliminates all six of the current Texas Compact Commissioners, giving Governor Perry authority to fill the vacancies midway through the original terms of his first six appointed commissioners.

The LWV sponsored a forum with six panelists for legislators, their aides, and LWV and community members on February 8, 2011, in the State Capitol to provide information about the issue. The forum was well attended and appreciated.

Other legislation that pertained to hazardous waste are:

Senate Bill 329 (Watson and Chisum) (passed) will have TV manufacturers "take back" and recycle obsolete televisions, keeping toxic materials such as lead and mercury out of Texas landfills and water sources passed. This bill is one of the rare environmental victories during the 2011 Texas Legislative Session. The League spoke in support of this and other recycling legislation.

2013: The 83rd Legislature was generally a success for the environment and conservation. Several laws were passed that help reduce hazardous materials being released, including legislation dealing with clean energy development, water conservation, and significant increases in state funding to state parks and clean air programs. Numerous bad bills failed that would have rolled back environmental regulations and curtailed citizen participation in environmental decision-making. Stopping and slowing the release of hazardous materials help create a cleaner Texas environment.

Compared to other states, Texas ranks 4th in total amount of toxic releases into water and 5th in releases into the air. Texas ranks 4th in the amount of recognized cancer causing carcinogens released into the air and 5th in releases into the water. Texas ranks 1st in the amount of hazardous waste generated.

Some legislation with benefits to public health and the environment are the expansion of Texas's successful Emission Reduction Program (TERP) and the renewal of the state's Chapter 313 economic development program, which will allow Texas to continue being the nation's leader in wind power. Each will help with reducing hazardous materials released into the air and water.

In terms of the state budget, significant gains were made in funding essential environmental programs, including using dedicated environmental funds for their intended purpose and not diverting them or allowing them to build up to help balance the state budget. While the legislature ultimately did little to address the problem with dedicated funds across the board, some improvement was made in using parks and clean air funds, which had accrued tens of millions in unspent fund, for their intended purpose.

In other legislative areas, there was mixed success in oil and gas regulation. Positive measures passed included improvements to gathering line safety in rural areas; increased fines for pipeline violations; increased funding for the Railroad Commission; and the setting of regulations for saltwater pipelines. A good "resign to run" provision in the Ethics Commission Sunset bill, which would have prohibited Railroad Commissioners seeking statewide office from collecting campaign contributions from the energy companies they regulate, was vetoed by the governor. Also, a good Senate bill dealing with water permitting for hydraulic fracturing failed to advance in the House.

Two bad bills, SB 347 and SB 791, dealing with uranium mining and radioactive waste storage were passed into law. One measure ends the ability of citizens to bring meaningful challenges on production area authorization permits for uranium mining. The other significantly increases the concentration of radioactive waste allowed to enter an Andrews County radioactive waste dump without taking adequate precautions to protect public health and safety around the site and on Texas's roadways. The bill allows far more radioactivity to come to the site sooner and produces far more revenue for Waste Control Specialists by eliminating the annual caps on volume or curries at the site. This could allow an increase in radioactivity and allows for three times the waste to be stored on the site and transported across Texas. One section of the law appears to allow the executive director of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission to modify the license without requiring a public hearing or public review, and another section appears to allow a huge fee waiver.

It is important to note that all eight of the nation's low-level radioactive storage dumps have leaked and the cleanup costs have ranged from $750 million to over $5 billion and climbing. The bill states that when the environmental radiation and perpetual care account reaches $100 million, fees charged to the company to ensure funds for cleanup are suspended.

In addition, a number of good bills dealing with beverage container recycling, paint take-back, and diverting electronic waste from landfills were derailed by industry groups.

 

 
Issues: