Disposal of Low-Level Radioactive Waste
In 2009, the TCEQ issued a license to Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) authorizing the operation of a facility for disposal of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) in Andrews County in West Texas.
The low-level radioactive waste generated in the Texas LLRW Disposal Compact, comprising the states of Texas and Vermont, will be disposed of in the compact’s waste-disposal facility, as will accepted non-compact wastes. A separate, adjacent facility, which was authorized by the same license, will accept low-level radioactive waste and mixed waste (waste that contains both a hazardous and a radioactive constituent) from federal facilities. This facility will be owned by the Department of Energy (DOE), should a contract between WCS and DOE be approved.
In January 2011, the TCEQ authorized WCS to begin construction of the LLRW disposal facility. In April 2012, the TCEQ issued a letter authorizing WCS to accept waste in the compact’s waste-disposal facility. The first shipment of low-level radioactive waste was received and disposed of by WCS that same month. With this facility now accepting waste, the TCEQ’s resident inspectors inspect every shipment and approve waste before Texas takes title.
Construction of the initial phase of the federal disposal facility was nearing completion and, if approved, will be available for operations once WCS and DOE successfully negotiate and approve a contract.
The wastes disposed of in the compact facility will generally include paper, plastic, glass, resins, metals, radiography tools, equipment, and other materials that have been contaminated by or contain radionuclides that meet the classification of low-level radioactive waste under state and federal regulations. These wastes are commonly generated by nuclear power plants, diagnostic and therapeutic nuclear medical facilities, industry, universities, and state governments.
Waste sent to the adjacent federal facility could include contaminated soil and debris from federal facilities. Neither disposal facility is authorized to accept high-level radioactive wastes, such as spent nuclear fuel rods or weapons-grade plutonium.
By law, the TCEQ is responsible for setting rates for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste at the compact facility. In June 2010, WCS submitted a waste disposal rate application to the TCEQ for review. In August 2011, the TCEQ recommended an interim disposal rate that is “reasonable and necessary” to protect Texas and Vermont businesses and services.
In January 2012, the TCEQ filed the notice of the LLRW rate application and the preliminary rate decision, which created the opportunity for a contested-case hearing. LLRW Compact Generators requested a contested-case hearing, and in May the TCEQ executive director referred the request to the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
Upon completion of this process, the recommended rates will be referred to the commission for consideration of adoption through expedited rulemaking.
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Radioactive By-product Material Disposal
The Waste Control Specialists disposal site for by-product material, which was licensed in May 2008, has been open for by-product disposal operations since October 2009. By-product material that can be disposed of by WCS is defined as tailings or wastes produced by or resulting from the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from ore.
Since October 2009, WCS has disposed of one by-product waste stream containing 3,776 canisters of waste generated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fernald facility in Ohio.
Underground Injection Control of Radioactive Waste
The TCEQ regulates disposal of by-product wastewater material generated at in situ uranium mining and processing sites. This occurs through permitting and enforcement of Class I injection wells under the agency’s federally authorized Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program.
Each uranium mining site has one or more permitted Class I UIC wells for disposal of excess water produced from in situ mining and uranium recovery, as well as groundwater produced in restoration of mined aquifers.
Texas has nine mining projects with on-site permitted Class I UIC wells. All are located in South Texas.
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Superfund is the federal program that enables state and federal environmental agencies to address properties contaminated by hazardous substances. The EPA has the legal authority and resources to clean up sites where contamination poses the greatest threat to human health and the environment.
Texas either takes the lead or supports the EPA in the cleanup of Texas sites that are on the National Priorities List (NPL), which is EPA’s ranking of national priorities among known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.
In addition, Texas has a state Superfund program to deal with sites that are ineligible for the federal program. This program is the state’s safety net for dealing with contaminated sites. The TCEQ uses state funds for cleanup operations at sites on the Texas Superfund Registry if no responsible parties can, or will, perform the cleanup. The TCEQ also takes legal steps to recover the cleanup expenses.
After a site is proposed for the state Superfund program, either the responsible party or the TCEQ proceeds with a remedial investigation, during which the agency determines the extent and nature of the contamination. A feasibility study follows to identify possible cleanup remedies. A local public meeting is held to explain the proposed remedy and to accept public comments. The TCEQ then selects an appropriate remedial action.
Projects entering the Superfund program are prioritized by risk. Locating the responsible parties and resolving legal matters, such as access to the site, consumes time and resources. It can take several years for sites to be fully investigated and cleaned up, though the TCEQ will expedite its response when necessary.
In fiscal 2011, Texas had a total of 111 sites in the state and federal Superfund programs, including an additional site proposed for the NPL in Midland County. Remedial actions were completed at two NPL sites and two Texas Superfund Registry sites.
In fiscal 2012, two additional sites were proposed for the NPL in Parker and Harris counties, for a total of 113 sites. Remedial actions at two federal NPL sites were completed.
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Petroleum Storage Tanks
The contamination of groundwater and soil due to leaking petroleum storage tanks (PSTs) has been a statewide environmental problem. The TCEQ oversees PST cleanups. Since the program began in 1987, the agency has received reports of 26,431 leaking PST sites—primarily at gasoline stations.
By the end of fiscal 2012, cleanup had been completed at 24,716 sites, and corrective action was under way at 1,715 sites.
Of the total reported PST releases, about one-half have affected groundwater.
Leaking PSTs are often discovered when a tank owner or operator upgrades or removes tanks, when an adjacent property owner is affected, or when the tank leak-detection system signals a problem. Some leaks are detected during construction or utility maintenance. Most tank system leaks are due to corrosion, incorrect installation, or damage during construction or repairs.
To avoid releases, tank owners and operators are required to properly operate and monitor their storage-tank systems, install leak-detection equipment and corrosion protection, and take measures to prevent spills and overfills.
Tank owners and operators are required to clean up releases from leaking PSTs, beginning with a site assessment that may include drilling monitoring wells and taking soil and groundwater samples. The TCEQ oversees the remediation.
The PST Remediation Fund has paid for most PST cleanups, with total expenditures topping $1 billion. Revenue comes from a fee on the delivery of petroleum products removed from bulk storage facilities. In 2011, H.B. 2694 continued the petroleum-product-delivery fee; however, the TCEQ was required to set the amount of the fee by rule sufficient only to cover the agency’s costs for administering the program. As a result, the fee was reduced by about 27 percent.
Under state law, cleanups of leaking tanks that were discovered and reported after Dec. 23, 1998, are paid by the owners’ environmental liability insurance or other financial assurance mechanisms, or from their own funds.
The PST reimbursement program, which funded cleanups at sites meeting specific eligibility criteria, ended Sept. 1, 2012, per H.B. 2694. The PST regulatory and State Lead programs remain active.
Before the expiration deadline, several milestones had to be met for a responsible party to remain eligible for reimbursement. The TCEQ required implementation of a corrective-action plan or groundwater monitoring to demonstrate progress toward cleanup goals. Eligible parties not completing all corrective actions by the deadline could apply to have their sites placed in the PST State Lead Program by July 1, 2011.
The PST State Lead Program continues to clean up sites at which the responsible party is unknown, unwilling, or financially unable to do the work—and in situations in which an eligible site was transferred to State Lead by the July 2011 deadline. State and federal funds pay for the corrective actions. Except for the eligible sites placed in the program by the deadline, the state allows cost recovery from the current owner or any previous responsible owner.
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The Texas Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) provides incentives for pollution cleanup by releasing future property owners from liability once a previously contaminated property meets the appropriate cleanup levels.
Since 1995, the program has provided regulatory oversight and guidance for 2,344 applicants and has issued 1,774 certificates of completion for residential, commercial, and industrial properties.
In the last two years, the program received 179 applications and issued 163 certificates. Recipients of the certificates report that the release of liability helps with property sales, including land transactions that would not have otherwise occurred due to concerns about environmental liability. As a result, many underutilized or unused properties may be restored to economically beneficial or community use.
Recent sites successfully addressed under the Texas VCP range from green-space projects, such as an urban park in Dallas, to commercial developments, such as a retail development in Harlingen.
The key benefit is the liability release afforded to future property owners once the certificate is issued. The certificate insulates future owners from potential changes in environmental conditions, such as the discovery of previously unknown contamination or even future changes in cleanup levels. Most importantly, the certificate provides finality concerning environmental issues.
The VCP is funded by an initial $1,000 application fee paid by each applicant. Costs beyond the initial fee are invoiced to the applicant on a monthly basis by the TCEQ.
Under the Innocent Owner/Operator Program, the TCEQ also implements the law providing liability protection to property owners whose land has been affected by contamination that migrated onto their property from an off-site source. In the last two years, the TCEQ issued about 55 certificates.
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Since 2003, the TCEQ has been responsible for collecting fees for a remediation fund designed to help pay for the cleanup of contaminated dry-cleaner sites. The fees come from the annual registration of dry-cleaning facilities and drop stations, property owners, previous property owners, and solvent fees from solvent distributors.
The Legislature in 2007 established registration requirements for property owners and preceding property owners who wish to claim benefits from the remediation fund, and authorized a lien against property owners and preceding property owners who fail to pay registration fees due during corrective action. In addition, the use of perchloroethylene was prohibited at sites where the agency has completed corrective action.
In fiscal 2012, the TCEQ identified potentially unregistered dry-cleaner locations and initiated contact through letters and site visits aimed at improving compliance. These efforts resulted in an increase of 435 registrations and a $716,715 increase in fees invoiced from fiscal 2011. Fiscal 2012 saw a total of 3,238 registrations and more than $3.6 million in invoiced fees.
Municipal Solid-Waste Management
With growing demands on the state’s waste-disposal facilities, the TCEQ evaluates the statewide outlook for landfill capacity and strives to reduce the overall amount of waste generated.
Texas had 193 active municipal solid waste landfills in fiscal 2011. Municipal waste disposal reached about 28.8 million tons.
NOTE: The categories of “residential” and “commercial” listed in the 2009-2010 TCEQ Biennial Report have been merged into the category of “municipal.”
In fiscal 2011 (the most recent data available), the total disposal in the state’s 193 active municipal solid-waste landfills was about 28.8 million tons, representing a reduction of 10.7 percent from fiscal 2009. Per capita, the rate of landfill disposal was about 6.2 pounds per day in fiscal 2011.
By the end of fiscal 2011, overall municipal solid-waste capacity stood at about 1.8 billion tons, representing almost 64 years of disposal capacity. That was a net increase of about 263 million tons, or roughly 285 million cubic yards, compared with fiscal 2009 capacity. More populous areas have seen a trend toward regional landfills serving larger areas, while less populous areas in West Texas continue to be served by small (less than 40 tons per day) arid exempt landfills, which are operated by municipalities.
To assist regional and local solid-waste planning initiatives, such as addressing adequate landfill capacity, the TCEQ provides solid waste planning grants to each of the 24 regional councils of governments (COGs). The planning initiatives are based on goals specified in each COG’s regional solid-waste management plan.
For the grant period of 2010 to 2011, the COGs received about $21.9 million, including $8.1 million for regional solid waste planning activities and $13.8 million for 452 local and regional solid-waste projects. These projects included collection stations in underserved areas, reduce-reuse-or-recycle and organic waste management projects, education, and outreach. The Legislature in 2011 halved the 2012–2013 biennial funding to $10.9 million, resulting in fewer local and regional projects being funded.
Regional solid waste grants and activities of the last two years are detailed in a separate report, Regional Councils of Governments and the Municipal Solid Waste Grant Program, FY 2010–2011: Report to the Texas Legislature, published in cooperation with the TCEQ by the 24 COGs and the Texas Association of Regional Councils.
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