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Article for Vermont Law School "Forum"
September 9, 1998

Alexander Lee is a first-year student from Brookline, MA. He apologizes for not talking about the weather, which was worthy of note this week. In his spare time, he helps run a small non-profit, called Project Laundry List. Stay tuned.


This column could as well be titled: "Why I Voted for Fred Tuttle in the Primary".

The issues surrounding the Texas-Maine-Vermont Compact made the front page of the Boston Globe last Tuesday, so why shouldn’t they make the front page of The Forum? The Compact is a legal issue after all. In fact, it violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Clinton’s 1994 Executive Order on environmental justice, and the 1983 La Paz Agreement. The latter, of course, was meant to halt the proliferation of maquiladores—polluting, low-paying industrial sites along the United States-Mexico border. Like every treaty that the United States has ever made with its indigenous people, we do not intend to honor this one with the brown people to our south. The Mexican Congress has voted unanimously against the dump, but to little avail.

Maybe you know nothing about this Compact. In brief, the Compact will allow transportation of Maine and Vermont’s “low-level” nuclear waste—much of which is highly toxic and should be classified as high-level waste—to an impoverished community in Hudspeth County, TX, called Sierra Blanca. The National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and hundreds of environmental and human rights groups have opposed the Compact. It passed through the House a couple months ago and the conference committee’s version, stripped of two critical amendments, was ratified by the U.S. Senate on September 2, 1998.

All three of Vermont’s “progressive” legislators—Sanders, Leahy, and Jeffords—irresponsibly and unresponsively voted for the Compact. All three attribute their support to Governor Dean and the Vermont Legislature’s support for the Compact. (A straw vote in the State Senate shows that a considerable majority of its thirty members would like to vote again on the Compact, now that more information is available. The truly honorable Elizabeth Ready from Addison County has taken a leadership position in opposing the Compact, but, unfortunately, it is probably too late.)

All three of our Hon.(?) federal delegates say that our state geologist, Larry Becker, has demonstrated with “sound science” that Texas is a more appropriate place for burial of low-level nuclear waste. First of all, these elected officials ignore above-ground, on-site, monitored, long-term storage, which is a viable option. Second, while Texas in general may be better suited for burial of low-level waste, Sierra Blanca in particular is situated on a fault in the most tectonically active area of the state. The site is 16 miles from the Rio Grande River and lies within its watershed.

To this line of reasoning, Sanders et al. reply that it is a matter of state’s rights. They assert that the Texas legislature chose Sierra Blanca—a poor, Spanish-speaking, Hispanic community on the Rio Grande—and Congress did not. The Compact, they say, does not specify a locale. This is a thinly veiled cop-out. Nobody honestly believes that the Texas Legislature will review and change its decision. A vote for the Compact is a vote for the Sierra Blanca dump site, plain and simple. The most avid libertarians and could undoubtedly see through such uncharacteristic kowtows to “states rights” policy.

When a child makes a mess, it is fairly standard practice for a parent to ask the child to pick it up. Thirty years-ago industry promised that a solution to the nuclear waste problem lay just around the corner. Today that solution is still not here, but instead of taking personal responsibility for the mess that it has created, Vermont is poised to send its waste on a dangerous 2,400 mile journey in unmarked tractor-trailers to West Texas’ poorest county.

The chances of an executive veto are slim because Senator Leahy, who would sit on the Judiciary Committee if Clinton (or his penis) were to suffer an impeachment trial, has been an avid supporter of the Compact. I join Father Ralph Solis, the priest of Sierra Blanca’s church; Bishop Armando Ochoa, D.D., of the El Paso Diocese; and thousands of other Americans who pray for justice. What other recourse do we have left...besides maybe the courts?

Lea Terhune
10 Waterview Road
Colchester, VT 05446
phone 802 658-1908
fax 802 660-4366

Sierra Club office, same address
phone and fax: 802 651-0169
888 729-4109

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