Saturday, September 5 , 2015, 9:35 am | Fair 70.0º




Joe Conason: Perry Hates Regulators Because They’re Bad for (His) Business

Texas governor panders to his political donors — namely, mega-billionaire Harold Simmons

By Joe Conason |

Like so many Republican officials of the Tea Party persuasion, Gov. Rick Perry despises the Environmental Protection Agency — a feeling he has expressed repeatedly in speeches, lawsuits, legislation and even a book titled Fed Up! Perhaps that is only natural for the governor of Texas, a “dirty energy” state where the protection of air, water and human health rank well below the defense of oil company profits for most politicians.

But Perry has at least one other reason for smacking down those bureaucrats so eagerly. When environmental regulators do their job properly, that can mean serious trouble for Perry’s largest political donors.

The outstanding example is Harold Simmons, a Dallas mega-billionaire industrialist who has donated well more than $1 million to Perry’s campaign committees recently. With Perry’s eager assistance — and despite warnings from Texas environmental officials — Simmons has received approval to build an enormous radioactive waste dump over a crucial underground water supply.

“We first had to change the law to where a private company can own a license, and we did that,” Simmons boasted in 2006, after the Texas Legislature and the governor rubber-stamped initial legislation and approvals for the project. “Then we got another law passed that said (the state) can only issue one license. Of course, we were the only ones that applied.”

Most Americans have never heard of Simmons, despite his fantastic wealth, because he wisely keeps his head low, generally refusing media interviews and avoiding media coverage. Last year, a local monthly in his hometown published the headline “Dallas’ Most Evil Genius” over a scathing and fascinating investigative profile that examined not only the peculiar history of litigation between Simmons and his children (who no longer speak to him), but his political machinations, corporate raiding and continuing corporate penchant for pollution.

In D Magazine, reporter Laray Polk explained how Simmons and a company he owns — innocuously named Waste Control Systems — manipulated state and federal law to allow him to build a nuclear-waste disposal site in West Texas. But construction has been delayed for years in part because the site appears to overlay the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground water supply that serves 1.9 million people in nine states, raising obvious concerns over radioactive contamination.

In the Simmons profile and subsequent posts on the Investigative Fund website last year, Polk explored the controversy over the proposed WCS facility, including strong objections by staff analysts at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who found evidence that atomic waste might indeed leach into a huge pool of drinking water.

Now reporters for the Los Angeles Times have revived, advanced and updated the WCS story with much additional detail, including interviews with the Texas environmental officials who oversaw the approval process for the facility. For a period last summer, that process appeared to have been slowed down to allow serious consideration of the scientific data collected by the commission’s staff.

In other words, the regulators were trying to do their job, which meant expensive delays and perhaps an eventual ruling against the nuclear waste site. That would have protected the Ogallala Aquifer and cost Simmons hundreds of millions in lost investment and profit. But then Perry’s appointees on the commission voted 2-1 to issue licenses for the WCS site.

This year, officials on another Texas commission appointed by Perry — who oversee low-level radioactive waste in the state — voted to allow the WCS site to accept nuclear waste from 34 other states in a highly controversial decision later ratified by the Legislature and signed by Perry himself. Not long after that, according to the Los Angeles Times report, Simmons gave $100,000 to Americans for Rick Perry, an “independent” committee supporting his presidential candidacy. (In 2004, Simmons was a major contributor to another “independent” political committee, the notorious Swift Boat Veterans group that distorted Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s war record in a series of TV ads.)

According to a spokesman for WCS, the Texas governor’s happy and lucrative relationship with Simmons did nothing to help the company except to turn the billionaire into “an easy target. ... It made the state redouble its efforts to be thorough.” But the Texas officials who opposed the approval on principle have since quit their jobs with the state. As one of them told the Times reporters, “This is a stunningly horrible public policy to grant a license to this company for that site. ... Something had to happen to overcome the quite blatant shortcoming of that application. ... The only thing I know in Texas that has the potential to do that is money in politics.”

As for the Texas official (and Perry appointee) who overruled his own scientists and approved the deal, he left state government, too — to work as a lobbyist for Simmons. He says that no undue influence led to the favorable outcome for his new employer.

Texas must be the only place on Earth where anyone would believe that.

Joe Conason writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.




comments powered by Disqus

» on 08.27.11 @ 01:59 PM

NO we don’t “hate” regulators.  Just federal and state overpaid bureaucrats.  What is it now, 22% of the U.S. workforce is now employed by some form of government entity?  Here’s my suggestion.  Boeing, stop trying to build planes in the U.S. go overseas…much cheaper.  GE, take your business to China…your boy will cover your ass.  Heck you didn’t pay taxes anyway.  Gibson, stop building your instruments here…go overseas…much cheaper.  Get the drift.  Just like we use offshore fulfillment and customer service.  Much cheaper, and far less regs - (and we have a large number of American ex-pats that work for us). Don’t like the California taxes and nanny regulators?  Go to Texas, Arizona, Nevada…you catch the drift, yes? Atlas Shrugged baby.

» on 08.27.11 @ 04:56 PM

Nattering no nothing climate change deniers can always go back to minumum wage mecca haboobtown .

» on 08.27.11 @ 06:40 PM

Yep. That’s me. Just another nattering know (versus no) nothing climate change denier. Same nattering know nothing climate change denier who laughed at the intellectually bankrupt fools that were screaming, “new iceage! new iceage!” back in Carter Jr’s day in the sun. But then your clan have always been easy marks. It’s a pretty day, heading out to pump as much carbon as I can into the air.

» on 08.28.11 @ 08:36 PM

Everyone who does business in Texas knows that Perry is a wheeler-dealer in the
old LBJ-Tom DeLay style.

His donors get whatever they want. Those who are asked, but don’t fork over, go to the back of the line, and stay there for as long as Texas law allows.

That’s the way things are in Karl Rove land, and some folks down there like it that way. Dick Armey tries to intellectualize it.

Perry just puts the arm out on those who want stuff, and reward them when they come across, whether what they want is good for Texas, or not.

No reason not to believe that’s how he’d operate if he ever gets to the White House.

And in fairness to Perry, his next door neighbor, the Man from Hope, Bill Clinton, operated the same way, selling pardons to big donors right up to the moment that they ripped the pen out of his hands.

» on 08.28.11 @ 09:13 PM

California 12+% unemployment. Whatever you’re doing keep it up.

» on 08.28.11 @ 11:06 PM

Smiling.

» on 08.31.11 @ 12:43 AM

There are 49 other state governors.  Why does Perry get so much attention in California?  Is it because TX is so much healthier than CA and TX has NO income tax?  Where does CA’s tax money go?  Overly generous pensions to overpaid govunionemployees?

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

 

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.