Harold Simmons Calls His Shots in the Texas Legislature Once Again

Harold Simmons, the Dallas billionaire and owner of a West Texas radioactive-waste dump, won yet another tailor-made piece of legislation Tuesday. When all seemed lost, and his bill was hung up on a technicality -- a point of order pushed by Representative Lon Burnam, his lonely, perennial opponent -- the top GOP donor's interests found their way into an amendment to a separate bill.

The Texas House voted resoundingly, 131-12, to allow Waste Control Specialists to bring "hotter" radioactive material in from out of state. Burnam proposed amendments requiring monitoring of groundwater levels around the disposal wells, but they got no traction. The bill was on its third reading Wednesday.

This wouldn't be the first time state law has been written in Simmons' favor. As you may recall, the legislature passed a bill allowing private companies like Simmons' to handle radioactive waste, and then a second bill limiting it to one private company -- Simmons', of course.

His path through the regulatory process was eased as well. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality geologists and engineers concluded that his disposal permit should be denied because the water table around the Andrews, Texas, site was prone to rising too near the radioactive waste wells. Thousands of gallons of groundwater had to be pumped from one of the wells over the span of a few months. The agency's scientists feared the water table could become contaminated. TCEQ approved the permits nonetheless, and several staffers resigned in protest.

That same year, the executive chairman of the state environmental commission left to lobby for the company. TCEQ subsequently allowed Simmons to put up stock from another of his companies as a security instead of the customary bond because, he pleaded, it was too expensive.

"Have you been listening?" the Texas Observer quoted Burnam as addressing his fellow House members. "I've been saying for over a decade that this vendor is going to walk away from this facility as soon as they've made as much money as they think they can make ... and the state of Texas will be economically liable for the contamination and the leaks and the improper disposal."

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Brantley Hargrove