Rick Perry's Ties to Texas Nuclear Waste Company Raise Concerns

Feb 9, 2017
In The News

(BNA) -- The large campaign donations Rick Perry received from a nuclear waste storage facility in Texas raise concerns about “pay-for-play” politics should he be confirmed as Energy secretary, government watchdogs and environmentalists say.

Questions about Perry's ties to Waste Control Specialists LLC, a nuclear waste storage company in West Texas that was licensed during his governorship, could be among many he will face during his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 19.

Harold Simmons, a billionaire businessman who was CEO of Waste Control Specialists until his death in 2013, donated approximately $1.1 million to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns, said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a government watchdog group. This makes Simmons the second-largest single contributor to Perry's campaigns for governor.

McDonald referred to Perry as a “pay and play governor” because he benefited from the unlimited campaign donations that are allowed in Texas statewide and legislative elections. In total, Perry amassed $102 million during his three runs for governor, McDonald said.

“Clearly here in Texas, it was no secret that Governor Perry supported, pushed forward and encouraged the licensing of Harold Simmons’ controversial waste dump in West Texas,” McDonald told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 18.

Waste Control Specialists acknowledges that Simmons was a major financial contributor to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns, as well as other Republican politicians in Texas, the company's spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 18.

The company received its license to store low-level radioactive waste from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2009. It started storing waste in 2012.

It also applied for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April 2016 to build a consolidated interim storage facility for high-level radioactive waste from commercial nuclear plants at its Andrews County location in West Texas. The company expects the review to take three years.

Concerns as Energy Secretary Pick

The financial support from a nuclear waste company CEO is worrisome as Perry is being considered for a Cabinet-level position in charge of the country's nuclear waste, environmental groups say.

“It concerns me with how state policy was easily influenced by one particular company. And that company did make significant contributions to Rick Perry and other political figures,” Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter in Texas, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 18.

Likewise, Geoffrey Fettus, senior attorney for Sierra Club's Energy and Transportation Program, said, “Now that Governor Perry is being nominated for this important job where he will have national nuclear waste issue directly in his lap, we're looking at his history. It's as much the manner in which things seemed to have been conducted in Texas that gives us significant concern.”

Fettus referred to the fact that two of the three commissioners on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which were all appointed by Perry, voted to proceed with the license for the Waste Control Specialists facility without a hearing. The Sierra Club tried to request a hearing to contest the license because of environmental concerns, but the commission denied the request.

“When you're dealing with something that's as complicated and long-lasting as a license nuclear waste, we find it nothing short of astonishing,” Fettus said.

Action on Nuclear Waste in Congress

Perry has indicated that the process for creating a permanent repository for the nation's nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain has taken too long.

He cited the Obama administration's delays on the Yucca Mountain application as one of the reasons for supporting the interim waste facility in Texas in a letter he wrote to the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives in 2014.

Also, Perry told Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) that he is open-minded on the future of Yucca, and he would be interested in visiting the state to see the site, Cortez Masto told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 18.

Republicans are voicing support for restarting the application for Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository.

However, Nevada representatives and senators in Congress oppose it. They are instead pushing for a consent-based approach for nuclear waste siting, which ensures there is support from the local community.

Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) introduced the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act in the U.S. House Jan. 11. It is a companion to legislation introduced Jan. 11 by Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Cortez Masto. The bill would allow for the construction of a nuclear waste repository only if the Energy secretary obtained written consent from the governor of the host state, affected units of local government and affected Indian tribes.

The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, the majority owner of Bloomberg L.P., parent of Bloomberg BNA.