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The Planet

The Planet
December 1998 Volume 5, Number 10

on the border

Dump Denied

by John Byrne Barry

On April Fools' Day, 1998, the Senate passed the Texas/Maine/Vermont Compact, S. 270, which would allow Maine and Vermont to ship nuclear waste to a proposed dump in Sierra Blanca, a border town in Hudspeth County, Texas, 16 miles from the Rio Grande. (Most of the waste, however, would still come from Texas.)

Why Sierra Blanca? Because putting it in this poor rural community, says Annette Hewlett in the Club's Washington, D.C., legislative office, was considered to be "the path of least political and economic resistance."


Led by Erin Rogers, the director of the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund, opposition to the dump spread like wildfire, sparking a broad coalition of organizations from Vermont to El Paso to Mexico City and a steady drumbeat of opposition actions.

On April 4, 3,000 schoolchildren from Valle de Juarez blockaded the International Bridge between Juarez and El Paso in protest.

Juarez City Councilman Jose Luis Rodriguez did a 25-day hunger strike while camping out on the bridge.

A diverse coalition of organizations, including the Club's Rio Grande and Lone Star chapters, pressured House members to vote down the compact. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) led opposition forces in Congress.

Two thousand miles away, Lea Terhune of the Sierra Club's Vermont Chapter organized locally against the dump and helped stage solidarity rallies in support of Rodriguez's hunger fast.

Also in April, in Mexico City, the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies passed unanimous resolutions against the dump.

In August, 500 marchers from Texas and Mexico trekked 76 miles from El Paso to Sierra Blanca to call attention to the proposed waste facility.

President Clinton signed the compact bill on Sept. 20, which left only the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) as the final hurdle before the bulldozers were called in. As the day of reckoning approached - when the TNRCC would vote on the plant's permit - the voice of opposition turned up the volume.

In October, a delegation of 11 Mexican officials from Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Chihuahua went to the Texas governor's mansion in Austin to present 17,000 petition signatures opposing the dump. They were turned away.

Opponents held a parade around the governor's mansion the day before the vote and continued the pressure with an all-night vigil outside the TNRCC building.

On Oct. 22, the TNRCC's three-judge panel voted unanimously to deny the permit, citing concern about a geologic fault line that runs beneath the site.

There was dancing in the street that night.

"People went crazy," says Scott Royder of the Club's Lone Star Chapter. From Vermont, Terhune was less sanguine. "We can celebrate now, but we can't relax. The nuclear industry will just try to find another poor border town to accept a dump."

For more information: Contact Scott Royder at (512) 477-1729;

Go on to the next article, "Big Bend Blues"

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