(CN) – Texas today will “rush through adoption of rules to permit importation of radioactive waste from up to 36 states as a political favor to benefit Governor Rick Perry’s second-largest campaign contributor,” civil rights groups say. They claim the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission “advertised a nonexistent, false email address to which the public was to send comments” on the rules, to hoodwink “an unsuspecting public.”
Public Citizen and the Texas Civil Rights Project asked the Travis County Court, in Austin, to enjoin today’s Commission hearing until the Commission considers the public input that the plaintiffs say the state intentionally ducked.
A Superior Court judge on Thursday restrained the Commission from voting on the issue, but a federal judge lifted the restraining order Monday. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said that neither the state nor federal court can stop the Commission from adopting rules at its meeting; he said jurisdiction is limited to appeals of the decision after it is made.
Unless the Commission approves the new rules today, as the civil rights groups expect, Texas is allowed to import the radioactive waste only from Vermont.
Waste Control Specialists, which is owned by Rick Perry’s political contributor Harold Simmons, is the only company licensed by Texas to accept the low-level waste; it also accepts radioactive waste from Texas. Simmons has contributed $620,000 to Perry’s campaigns since 2001, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The 1,338-acre dump site is 19 miles west of Andrews, Texas, near the New Mexico line.
The political machinations are obvious. Vermont appoints two members of the eight-member Commission. And Vermont’s incoming governor, Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, has expressed concerns about expanding the site. But Shumlin does not take office until Thursday. Until then, Vermont’s lame-duck governor is Jim Douglas, a Republican.
The civil rights groups claim that a vote today would violate the Texas Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act.
“The defendant Commission advertised a nonexistent, false email address to which the public was to send comments on the proposed rules,” according to the complaint. “This error effectively denied the unsuspecting public the right to submit, and to have considered by the Commission, their written comments on propose rules before the agency votes on the proposed rules. …
“The reason that the Commission has engaged in such unusual, defective rulemaking procedures is that some Commission members apparently are attempting to rush through adoption of rules to permit importation of radioactive waste from up to 36 states as a political favor to benefit Governor Rick Perry’s second-largest campaign contributor.”
The complaint cites a Dec. 23, 2010 story in the American-Statesman, “Vote Due Soon on OK’ing Radioactive Waste from More States,” by Asher Price.
The plaintiffs say the Commission “provided a defective email address” for public comment: firstname.lastname@example.org. That address bounced all messages back. The correct address is email@example.com, according to the complaint. Also, the deadline for submitting comments, Dec. 26, was Sunday, a postal holiday.
With the Commission cleared to vote today, the plaintiffs expect the new rules to be approved. All six Texans on the Commission were appointed by Perry, and both Vermonters and four of the Texans told the American-Statesman that they support the expansion. The Commission needs five votes to approve the new rules.
American-Statesman reporter Asher Price has followed the story closely for more than a year. Information about the Texas court hearings in this story and other details of Texas politics were taken from Price’s reporting in the Statesman.