Sid Miller's Jan 2008 TEC Campaign Contributions- Harold Simmons-Dumping Radioactive Waste Near Water


 

Sid Miller's Jan 2008 TEC Campaign Contributions- Harold Simmons-Dumping Radioactive Waste Near Water
 


27 March 2008 at 8:25:43 AM
salon

There were a couple of contributors on Miller's Jan 2008 report that I wanted to talk about in a little more depath.

Harold Simmons Contran Entrepreneu 1000

Who's Harold Simmons? From TPJ's Lobby Watch in 2001

Billionaire corporate raider Harold Simmons controls Contran and Valhi, holding companies that run an empire of sugar, manufacturing, metal, chemical, oil, real estate, insurance and other interests. 

Simmons built part of this empire through hostile takeovers like the one he is now pursuing against third-generation managers of West Bend, a Wisconsin manufacturing firm.1 Simmons� companies have been charged with raiding their workers� pension funds to finance such takeover deals.2

With 2000 sales exceeding $1 billion, Simmons� empire depends on friendly government policies. Taxpayers subsidize Simmons� sugar prices, bankroll military purchases of his aerospace metals and ultimately pay for the limits that government officials place on his tax and pollution liabilities.3 Then-President Clinton used the line-item veto to narrowly avert a 1997 loophole for Simmons to dodge $80 million in taxes.4

Here's the part that's most current. Simmons bought Waste Control Specialists in 1995, the place in Andrews County where plans are to dump nuclear waste.

With no competitors in sight, Waste Control is escalating its demands. Bills by Sen. Robert Duncan and Rep. Warren Chisum would allow Waste Control to get a 20-year license to bury the nation�s low-level radioactive waste in West Texas.9 Once the license ends, the state inherits this waste for 100,000 years. In other words, Simmons gets the profits and Texas gets the nuclear liabilities. 

Contran and Valhi contributed $825,000 in unregulated corporate soft money over the last two election cycles�all to the GOP. 

Simmons is a recidivist violator of federal election laws. In 1993, the Federal Election Commission fined him $19,800 for exceeding federal contributions limits. Simmons admitted doing it again in 1997.10

In 2003, Simmons marshalled a lot of money and lobbyists to get a bill passed through the Texas Legislature

For eight years, Dallas billionaire and Republican stalwart Harold Simmons has used his considerable fortune, and the political influence that goes along with it, to press Texas lawmakers to amend a state law barring private companies from running radioactive waste disposal sites. Each year, his efforts have come up short. But now, the state legislature is set to approve a bill which could clear the way for Simmons' Waste Control Specialists to permanently store hundreds of millions of cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste at its West Texas dump. 

In its latest push to get the bill passed, Waste Control reportedly mobilized a small army of lobbyists: 16 in all, at a cost of more than $800,000. But the lobbyists represent only one element of Simmons' influence. Simmons' ties to the Texas Republican establishment and President Bush date to well before he began lobbying to bring nuclear waste to his dump, which occupies a windswept chunk of land in Andrews County, near the New Mexico state line.

Simmons has donated more than a million dollars to support GOP causes, including George W. Bush's campaign coffers. Now, critics in Austin charge that the expected approval of the bill Simmons seeks will be a case study in the triumph of big money politics over public interest. Moreover, they accuse Waste Control of exploiting fears of terrorism to ram through a sweetheart deal that will turn Texas into a national radioactive dumping ground, allowing Simmons to reap the short-term profits while taxpayers get stuck with the clean-up bill.

"Texas state government has for a long time been a subsidiary of corporate Texas, but it's now a wholly-owned subsidiary," says Democratic State Representative Lon Burnam, one of the bill's leading opponents. "This particular bill is in probably the top five economic political payoffs that the speaker and the governor need to do."

Right now, Waste Control is only licensed for the processing and interim storage of some low-level waste headed for one of the country's three long-term storage dumps. The bill being considered by Texas lawmakers would allow the dump to accept waste from medical research sites and nuclear power plants in Texas and Vermont (with whom Texas has a disposal agreement) for long-term storage. Significantly, it would also allow the company to import waste from nuclear sites run by the federal government. This provision, critics claim, is where the real profits lie. 

It's unclear how much federal waste would end up in Texas, but the Department of Energy foresees disposing of more than a million cubic feet of low-level waste each year until 2070 -- more than 20 times the amount Texas generates annually. And Washington would pay handsomely for the privilege of burying its waste in Texas: by even the most conservative estimates, Waste Control would make hundreds of millions of dollars overall from the federal waste.

As currently written, however, the bill allows for the storage of far more waste -- 160 million cubic feet, or more than half of all the low-level waste the federal government expects to generate between now and 2010, according to expert testimony in the Texas Senate. If the dump takes in that much waste, Waste Control could make billions.

Now let's bring this a little more up to date. In December 2007, the TCEQ said it was going to approve nuclear waste dumping in Andrews County DESPITE the dump being too close to groundwater. Then, on March 27, 2008, TCEQ fined Waste Control Specialists $151,000 in penalties for violations in 2005 and 2006.

According to an enforcement agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in 2005 the company allowed radioactive materials, including Plutonium-239 and Americium-241, to get into an administration and laboratory septic system. That system was within a quarter-mile of a well used for drinking water.

A spokesman for the company said small amounts of the chemicals got into the septic system when a lab worker broke a beaker over a sink and the contamination was found in samples routinely collected for state review.

From Fort Worth Weekly in 2003

On Earth Day, ironically enough, the 78th Texas Legislature finally passed what State Rep. Lon Burnam calls "a monopoly corporate welfare bill" -- intended to enrich one specific corporation. He's talking about the bill allowing development of a multi-state nuclear dump in Texas, and he says it was written for the benefit of Waste Control Specialists, a West Texas hazardous waste dump owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons. "It will allow Texas to become a nuclear waste dumping ground for the nation -- if not the world," he said.

Here's from TCEQ in 2004  and from what TCEQ told me in 2007.

Here's the bill, HB 253 from the 78(R) Session. TEXT of the bill.

Finally, Rick Perry signed the bill. But how did Sid Miller vote? I haven't yet found a record vote so it would be worth asking him direclty what his vote was on this.

On contributions from Harold Simmons. Go here and on the contributor line put in last name Simmons, first name Harold. I think it's interesting to note not only how much money Simmons has spread around (and notice there are at least 3 instances to Sid Miller) but how in some cases he's listed as *self-employed*. Is that to get around financing rules?


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