RadWaste Monitor Vol. 14 No. 18
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May 07, 2021

Texas Legislature Pulls “Misleading” High Level Waste Ban From Floor in Parliamentary Fracas

By Benjamin Weiss

A bill that would have banned storage of high level waste in Texas was yanked ahead of a scheduled floor vote in the state’s House of Representatives because its legislative analysis was “substantially and materially misleading,” the state speaker of the House said.

H.B. 2692, proposed in March by state Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R), got tossed back into committee not because of its proposal to ban high level waste storage, but because of apparent confusion over the changes it would have made to low-level waste-storage fees — both of which have ramifications for disposal site operator Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in Andrews County, Texas, part of Landgraf’s district.

On Wednesday afternoon, a procedural motion by Rep. Tom Craddick (R) ground debate on Landgraf’s bill to a halt for more than an hour, after which Texas House Speaker Rep. Dade Phelan (R) announced that the bill’s analysis — a supplementary explanation provided to legislators — both failed to explain proposed changes to state waste disposal rates and also appeared to repeal parts of the Texas health and safety code. 

Landgraf said Wednesday on the Texas House floor that the provision to repeal parts of the health and safety code was “an oversight.”

For now, the bill is back in the state House Environmental Regulation Committee, according to the legislature’s records. Landgraf chairs the panel, which hadn’t scheduled any meeting on the bill at deadline Friday for RadWaste Monitor

That leaves less than a month left for the bill to make its way back to the state House floor. The state legislature’s current session was scheduled to end May 31. Landgraf’s office didn’t return a request for comment by deadline Friday on whether they’d try to get their measure through committee before then.

In an emailed statement Friday, WCS president David Carlson said the company’s “interests and the state’s interests are aligned,” and that “[w]e remain committed to working closely with our community, our regulators and the State of Texas to ensure the facility remains viable, safe and an asset to the state and the state’s economy.”

WCS operates a low-level waste disposal site in Andrews County and is also waiting for federal approval to build a federally regulated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel there. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently working on an environmental impact statement that is a prerequisite for a federal license.

Landgraf said Wednesday that he was “mystified” by what he called “a pretty substantial interest” in his radioactive waste bill by the full legislature.

“I’m sorry for all the attention that this has gotten, because it was never my intention for this to be a contentious issue,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf said his bill was only intended to affect Andrews County. He blamed a “concerted campaign to mischaracterize this bill” for Wednesday’s controversy, despite his “diligence” to draft legislation agreeable to stakeholders.

Indeed, some of these stakeholders have gone from supporters of Landgraf’s measure to opponents in a matter of months. In a March 24 session of the state House’s Environmental Regulation Committee, a representative from holdings company Fasken Oil & Ranch, Ltd. publicly recanted the company’s earlier enthusiasm for the bill, saying Landgraf’s legislation “didn’t go far enough” to ban high-level waste from Texas entirely.

Editor’s note, 05/12/2021, 3:43 p.m. Eastern time. The story was corrected to show that the bill was pulled from the floor of the Texas House of Representatives because its legislative analysis was deemed misleading, not because the legislation was deemed misleading.