On June 5, 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) vetoed a widely supported domestic violence bill due to the inclusion of a late amendment related to radioactive waste disposal.
Abbott called the measure, Senate Bill (SB) 1804, a “laudable effort” that lost his support when “someone slipped in an ill-considered giveaway to a radioactive waste disposal facility.”
“Unfortunately, the bill author’s good idea about domestic violence has been dragged down by a bad idea about radioactive waste,” Abbott wrote in his veto statement.
Overview of SB 1804
Senate Bill 1804, as introduced by State Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R), would require that bond information about domestic violence offenders be entered into a statewide data repository.
Representative Poncho Nevárez (D), one of the bill’s sponsors in the House, added an amendment about the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) nuclear waste disposal facility to the measure. Nevárez told lawmakers that the amendment added “economic competitive incentives” to the bill.
As written, the amendment would have delayed an increase to a surcharge and state fee paid by WCS – the private operator of a waste disposal facility in West Texas. Governor Abbott called the amendment an “ill-considered giveaway.”
The amendment pushed back the date of a fee increase for the WCS radioactive waste disposal company from 2019 to 2021. Nevárez characterized the move as a matter of creating jobs. The Texas House approved the amendment by a vote of 142-0.
Governor Abbott’s Veto
The following is the text of the Proclamation of the Governor of the State of Texas on his veto of SB 1804 on June 5, 2019:
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Pursuant to Article IV, Section 14, of the Texas Constitution, I, Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, do hereby disapprove of and veto Senate Bill No. 1804 as passed by the Eighty-Sixth Texas Legislature, Regular Session, because of the following objections:
Senate Bill 1804 was a laudable effort to address domestic violence, until someone slipped in an ill-considered giveaway to a radioactive waste disposal facility. Unfortunately, the bill author’s good idea about domestic violence has been dragged down by a bad idea about radioactive waste.
Since the Eighty-Sixth Texas Legislature, Regular Session, by its adjournment has prevented the return of this bill, I am filing these objections in the office of the Secretary of State and giving notice thereof by this public proclamation according to the aforementioned constitutional provision.
END LONG QUOTE INDENT
Stakeholders’ Statements and Reactions
Thomas Graham, a WCS spokesperson, said the company was “disappointed to learn of the Governor’s objections.”
“This amendment continued current law, previously enacted and signed into law by the [G]overnor, and ensures that costs associated with disposal of waste from cancer treatments, X-rays and other essential human health activities are not burdened with additional taxation,” Graham said in a statement. “This issue was thoroughly studied in the interim and unanimously recommended by a select House and Senate Committee of the legislature that the waste facility needed to be competitive with other states’ waste sites.”
Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas, called the eleventh-hour change to the bill “unfortunate.”
“I’m sad to see that the good legislation was tainted and therefore vetoed, but I certainly understand the [G]overnor’s thinking,” said Metzger. “It ultimately comes down to a really bad decision by Rep. Nevárez to put the interests of a radioactive waste dump ahead of the victims of domestic violence.”
Various bills were introduced during the Eighty-Sixth Texas legislature related to low-level radioactive waste disposal in the State of Texas including:
• House Bill No. 2269 and Senate Bill No. 1021, which are identical pieces of legislation that, amongst other things, seek to lower certain charges and reserve disposal capacity for Texas and Vermont at the WCS facility; and,
• Senate Bill No. 1753 that, among other things, seeks to addresses emergency planning and fees related to the transportation of radioactive waste; impose new requirements related to contingency planning; impose new requirements for the implementation of biannual, independent inspections of a radioactive waste site; and, require adjustments to the amount of financial security to account for information received from the state auditor before a license may be issued or renewed.
(See LLW Notes, March/April 2019, pp. 1, 10-14.)
In addition, on April 26, 2019, Governor Abbott sent a letter to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chair Kristine Svinicki in which the Governor expresses his opposition to any increase in the amount or concentration of radioactivity authorized for disposal at the WCS low-level radioactive waste disposal facility in Andrews County, Texas.
In the letter, Governor Abbott writes:
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Actions taken by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) could allow for disposal of more highly radioactive waste in Texas without approval by our State. The federal government should allow States with disposal sites for low- level radioactive waste (LLRW) to accept or reject such changes, rather than forcing them to take on the increased hazards of Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) or equivalent waste. At this time, I oppose any increase in the amount or concentration of radioactivity authorized for disposal at the facility in Andrews County, Texas.
DOE has shown a clear interest in disposal of GTCC waste in Texas, both by identifying a generic commercial facility as one of two preferred alternatives for GTCC waste, and by specifically evaluating the suitability of the Andrews County site for that purpose. The NRC continues development of a regulatory basis for allowing GTCC disposal in the Andrews County facility, even taking steps last October to expedite that effort. These actions could culminate in a reclassification of LLRW, with some or all of the GTCC waste inventory arbitrarily becoming Class C LLRW without Texas having any say in the matter.
Texas is ready to work cooperatively with our federal partners to safely manage the use and disposal of radioactive materials. In the spirit of that relationship, please consider measures to allow for state approval of any changes you would propose to the regulatory framework for LLRW or wastes of greater radioactivity. (citations omitted)
END LONG QUOTE INDENT
(See LLW Forum memo to members and supporters titled, “Letter from Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chair Kristine Svinicki Expressing Opposition to Any Increase in the Amount or Concentration of Radioactivity Authorized for Disposal at the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) Facility in Andrews County, Texas,” dated May 2, 2019.)
For additional information, please contact the Governor’s Office of the State of Texas at https://gov.texas.gov/ or at (512) 463-5739.
For additional information about Senate Bill 1804, please see attached Veto Proclamation by Governor Abbott and go to https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=SB1804#.