Now that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process is fully underway — public meetings start this week – some environmental advocacy organizations have begun mobilizing in opposition to our application to provide interim storage of spent nuclear fuel at our 14,000-acre Andrews County facility. I understand, and fully expected, these groups to come forward. It’s all part of the process.
In previous blog posts and other information posted on our website, we have anticipated and provided some facts to address allegations now being raised that the transportation of spent nuclear fuel to our facility creates a risk to communities near still undesignated routes and that the operation of spent fuel storage facilities at our site cannot be conducted safely. We will continue to listen to their concerns and try our best to reassure them that Waste Control Specialists can conduct the operations envisioned in our license application in a safe and environmentally appropriate fashion.
But there is a new line of attack being leveled against WCS that deserves some comment here, namely that our license application is a violation of the concept of “environmental justice”. Before giving you some facts, let me take a minute and give some background on the term.
In 1994, President Clinton issued an Executive Order designed to focus federal agency attention on the environmental and human health effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations, with a goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities. Like other agencies in the federal government, the NRC began to develop its strategies for compliance and in 2004 issued a final policy statement affirming the agency’s commitment to the goals of environmental justice in all of its regulatory and licensing decisions. As the agency noted:
“Disproportionately high and adverse impacts of a proposed action that fall heavily on a particular community call for close scrutiny – a hard look – under NEPA,” referring to the National Environmental Policy Act. As the agency further stated, “an analysis of disproportionately high and adverse impacts needs to be done as part of the agency’s NEPA obligations to accurately identify and disclose all significant environmental impacts associated with a proposed action.”
So, as we begin public meetings this week to discuss the proper scope of the environmental review that needs to accompany a licensing decision by the NRC, let’s look at some of the facts.
- Fact 1 – The growth of the Hispanic population of Andrews County has mirrored the Hispanic population growth in the state.
- Fact 2 – There is nothing poor about Andrews County.
- Fact 3 – There is nothing uneducated about Andrews County.
Texas is now a “majority minority” state. The white population makes up less than 50 percent of the Texas population.
According to the Pew Research Center, Texas is poised to become the next majority Hispanic state – following California and New Mexico. Andrews County was 32 percent Hispanic in 1990, 40 percent Hispanic in 2000 and 55.8 percent Hispanic in July of 2015.
Those numbers matter because it was in 1990 when community leaders in Andrews County set out to diversify the local economic base and recruited Waste Control Specialists into Andrews. WCS didn’t pick a poor Hispanic community; rather the company was recruited by a progressive small town which was rightfully seeking to diversify the economic base from oil and gas.
Speaking of oil and gas, there’s a lot of it in Andrews County. That’s why it is an extremely wealthy county – at least according to the state of Texas.
Since the state adopted property tax recapture in the 1990s, the Andrews County ISD has ranked in the top five school districts in the state for the amount of local taxes sent into the state to be shared with property poor districts. Andrews County is considered in the top one percent of wealthiest counties.
The Andrews ISD sent more than $38 million to the state coffers in 2015. And the educational standards here in Andrews County are impressive, to say the least. Andrews County is No.1 in the region for the percentage of the degreed population with degrees in science or engineering (www.towncharts.com).
There is nothing poor or uneducated about Andrews County. Yes, it has a booming Hispanic population. I might add that Hispanics are the fastest growing part of the WCS workforce as well. I’m proud to say we are honored to be providing these full-time, full-benefit, well-paid positions to our increasingly diverse workforce.
So let’s get back to arguing about our geology, — our record of safely and securely disposing of radioactive waste – but let’s quit disparaging the community of Andrews and its Hispanic population.
Texas is a great, big diverse state. We’re proud to be located here in the thriving, well-educated and diverse community that is Andrews County.