INTERVIEWEE: Bill Addington (BA)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: March 28, 2001
LOCATION: Sierra Blanca, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Robin Johnson
REELS: 2136, 2137, and 2138
Please note that the video includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to background noise or off-camera conversation that is unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas and it is March 28, the year 2001 and we’re in Sierra Blanca, Texas at the Guerra Grocery and Merchandise Store and we’re having the good chance to talk with Bill Addington who runs the operation here and has also been very active in fighting the various proposals to dump everything from radioactive waste to sludge cake and then I guess most recently proposals to export groundwater from this area. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your work over the years.
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DT: Thanks very much.
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BA: Any time.
DT: I thought we might start with your childhood and if there might have been people in your family that you could point to as being influences that got you interested in conservation or about speaking out as a private citizen.
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BA: Sure. My family, of course, there’s my mother who—Gloria Guerra Addington who in the, you know, I guess it is like we said that some of this activism is inherited. My mom in the—in the late ‘60s was a school teacher here in Sierra Blanca, Texas teaching grade school, elementary actually and saw discrimination and actual racism here at our school where kids were getting spanked, actually beat, if they did some minor infraction if they were Mexican but if they were Anglo they’d just get a talking to. So they formed a social justice committee and with actually with help and support from (?) and other na—state national groups got in the media quite a bit and actually had a boycott of the school for dang—darn near nine weeks which nearly bankrupt the school because no one would—hardly any of the kids were—would show up, just a few kids. So it did cause
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some changes. Health education and welfare came down and investigated, however my mother lost her job and they tried to blackball her, the—the school board of the—the district here in Sierra Blanca. So I guess yeah, my mom is—is the first one. And then, of course, like there’s also my—my grandfather who was an immigrant from Lebanon, from Syria and came to Sierra Blanca via Valentine, Texas and before that, he actually came at—at—at—at eight years old he came from Syria with his uncle to (?) Yucatan and lived there until he was about eighteen years old. But, of course, he was real outspoken about the Diaz regime, one of the dictators there in Mexico and kept getting thrown in jail a lot in Mexico. So it was real unstable there during the revolution so my grandfather Jose Guerra who had actually translated his name directly from Arabic which is—which Harib which means war and so he translated it to—to Guerra and then—a Spanish name. He
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learned Spanish in—in—in Mexico and Yucatan. Came to—he actually got amnesty in the United States Government, came on a boat—a ship to Galveston from Yucatan, it’s just a short trip. And they gave him like forty dollars when he got off the boat and came to the United States with some of his paisanos, his friends also from that country. His friends settled in El Paso, my grandfather settled in Sierra Blanca. He married my grandmother in Valentine, Texas. She was from Camargo Chihuahua and actually married my grandmother there in Valentine. Her—my grandmother’s brother had been living there with my grandmother in Valentine as also refugees from the revolution in Mexico. And her brother, who was also living with her was a general with Via, Poncho Via. And so they moved to Sierra Blanca and lived here. So th—so I guess I could say that my grandfather, my grandmother’s brother, and my mom were all in their own way activists, maybe—maybe it’s inherited, I don’t know.
DT: You’ve also talked about how your concern for this area has been influenced by your love of the high desert and that your grandmother, when she came to Sierra Blanca at first didn’t maybe appreciate the desert but then grew to see it differently. Can you talk a little bit about that?
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BA: Sure. When my grandmother came from Valentine, actually my grandfather was on his way to California but he settled on Sierra Blanca. My grandmother I’m sure wanted to go to California because Camargo where she was from has two rivers going through it, it’s real green. Well Sierra Blanca is, like I said, high desert and there’s, you know, not a lot of rainfall here and she thought it was just a desolate, barren place, you know, ‘cause she didn’t see the beauty when she first came here and just wanted to leave. After about a year though she grew to love the—the place and saw the—the beauty and the diversity that this area holds.
DT: Can you talk a little bit more about the kind of diversity that you and she have both seen in this area.
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BA: Sure. My grandmother really loved nature and, of course, I have fond memories of feeding a quail at her house, scaled quail, a mountain quail at her house and she loved all the animals and she had a green thumb and plants and was always in the yard so. The diversity in the Chihuahuan desert is—is just beyond belief, the diversity of this area, this—this Chihuahuan desert region which mostly lies in Mexico but it’s in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas as well, rivals the rain forests in South America easily, the diversity. People have no idea when they drive through here on Interstate 10, for example through Sierra Blanca, they see nothing driving at seventy miles an hour on the freeway. They see cactus, sand, and gravel and they think there’s nothing that lives here. However, upon further inspection if they’ll just get out of their cars, they would see the life, the multitude of life that exists not only in the classic desert which you see the prickly pear
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and the cactus and whatnot, but also into the hills and into the mountains where you actually have a—a different climate, more rain, different animals, different plants, forest even. I can show—I could show you forest less than six miles from here and—and you wouldn’t believe that just driving through but there—it does exist. It’s not the classic forest like you talk about the Pacific northwest but we’re talking pinion pine, oak, and cedar which can create a high desert forest and a microclimate with springs, elk, endangered—all kinds of different endangered species of plants and animals and just a—a different—a completely different world than is—is up there in the Eagle Mountains for exactly—for example six miles from here—eight miles from here than we—than we—we have down here in this—in Sierra Blanca which I think we’re about five thousand feet here.
DT: Were there people who introduced you to the outdoors near here? You mentioned your grandmother, were there others that might have taken you up to see these forests and springs?
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BA: Well no, my grandmother didn’t do that a lot, she was—when I was growing up she’s getting up in age, she was in her eighties when she died, however, I do remember—you know I—we have a far—we had a farm and ranch and I was always being farmed out to be worked—working on the farm and ranch. And also I have really good memories of—of being a—in Boy Scouts where the scout leaders from Sierra Blanca would take us on trips all in this area. And actually at that real young age of working on the farm, working on the land, working on the ranch and going on Boy Scout trips to camp and whatnot, it—it really did—it was my first connection with the—with the land and the earth here.
DT: Were there any particular Boy Scout trips for example that you can recall?
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BA: Well I remember one to the Quitman Mountains I guess that—that really opened my eyes to about the—the diversity and the—the life that’s—that abounds here and when—when you just will get out and inspect it. We went to the Quitman mountains, they’re about five miles from Sierra Blanca here and went to these mountains and—on a trip and looked at an Indian—an Indian—an actually an ancient village of the native American Indians and—and arroyo petroglyphs, Indian writings, their ancient writings, and then in the stream bed we were shown and we could dig down in the stream bed like a foot down, it would—would fill up with water, an underground river. So that’s something else that people don’t realize, there’s actually underground rivers that flow through some of these dry creek beds. And that’s something that I discovered, there’s a river below this land here that looks pretty dry and it’s actually a stream, it was an underground stream is what it was, I thought it was a river. Anyway, that was—that stood out in my mind of something really special. You could dig down a—a foot and it would fill up with drinkable water, really pure pristine water. And, of course, going to the Eagle Mountains, Chief Springs, very special, I consider a holy place out here.
DT: Speaking of water, could you talk a little bit about the ambitions of El Paso and some of the other larger desert towns to prospect for water in this area?
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BA: I wouldn’t call them town—towns, I’d call them cities fir—first. The City of El Paso which is about seven hundred thousand people has basically destroyed their aquifer the Hueco Bolson, they’ve collapsed it. It’s got maybe twenty years of—maybe twenty years of water left. They get about half their water from the Rio Grande now because they knew that—they—they see that the level declined in the Hueco, which is a major aquifer in Texas. There’s been a proposal and a move since 1991 for the—the pub—the public service board of El Paso which governs El Paso water utilities to build a pipeline, a six—excuse me a five foot pipeline, sixty inches, to this area, a hundred miles to Valentine, actually a hundred and fifty miles to Valentine, Texas, the same place where my grandmother and my grandfather got married, to tap into that ancient pristine aquifer
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and pump it back to El Paso. That aquifer is—the aquifer that sits on the edge of Sierra Blanca, the west Texas Bolson aquifer which is a very ancient, pristine aquifer that has very little recharge. By pumping the amount of water they want to pump, David, we’re talking about fifty thousand acre feet a year or more, it would—you would—would have ground lev—groundwater declines and infiltration of so—of brackish water into the fresh water. The water in Valentine and this Bolson that runs through four counties is very good but it’s not just one big lake, it’s—it’s very finite resource and it’s very old water, it took a long time to accumulate. So this is where all these towns, these small towns and
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communities in Marfa, Valentine, Fort Davis, Sierra Blanca, Van Horn, Dell City, the—the—you know, we—we get our water from underground sources. We don’t get it from the river and so we—we must look out for ourselves and protect this water. El Paso is—the county and city of El Paso had spent five million dollars, David, in opposing this nuclear dump at Fort Hancock, Texas before it came to Sierra Blanca, the nuclear dump that we stopped here in Sierra Blanca, the state of Texas wanted to build. They spent less than ten thousand dollars out of discretionary funds to—fighting the dump at Sierra Blanca. There were legal parties, however, they—the public service board, the water utilities, and really the city council really did really nothing to stop the dump at Sierra Blanca. And so we put them to task and says well El Paso, you—you’re not really willing to protect the very water you’re trying to take from us. This dump sits over the edge of the Hueco—of the west Texas Bolson and y’all just bought a ranch thirty miles from here, they call it a water ranch, to pump water back to El Paso.
DT: Why do they call it a water ranch?
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BA: Well it’s a—it was a ranch, it’s actually the—and they call it a water ranch because they—they’re going to use it to pump water as a—as a—they call it a just in case source, just in case we might need it. Well now they say they need it. So it’s a water ranch, you know, to provide water. They’re not farming or ranching, they want to use it to mine water.
DT: And what have been some of the local efforts to try to dissuade them from doing that?
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BA: Well when they bought the property, the public service board from this insurance company from Connecticut they—and, of course, they also bought another twenty—this is twenty-one thousand acres we’re talking about in Valentine, it’s not a small ranch, it’s kind of a small—well it’s considered small but it’s kind of big, and they bought another one in Van Horn, Texas, thirty miles from here, another twenty-one thousand acres and they actually want to—they actually want to pump a lot of—a lot of groundwater back to El Paso. What was the original question?
DT: I was curious how people responded to these proposals to mine the ground water out in west Texas.
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BA: Oh yes, I was setting that—yes. The first thing they did was in—in response, this area, groundwater district was set up in Jeff Davis County by Bob Dillard who’s the editor of the paper there. And Bob Dillard and others set up the—a single county underground—underground water district to try to impact this plan. Groundwater districts can actually have some regulation over their water and actually tax it if they try to remove it. So that was the first one. Several others have popped up since then, Culberson County, Presidio County, and Brewster County is now trying to start one to protect themselves from the cities. People here are very concerned about this proposal to
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suck—to mine groundwater and we’re talking about mining ground water, that’s when you’re taking more water out of the ground then what’s annually replenished by—recharged from rainfall, that’s mining and that’s what they want to do. They—they say it’s not mining, that they’re not going to do this and we say it is. And we know it is as—as there’s very little recharge coming into these aquifers. Now there—we have a group—the fledging group we started, the West Texas Water Protection Fund which we’re trying to educate the people of this region, including the people in the city by the way, into the—this issue so we can work together. We don’t believe, David, that it should be an
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urban versus a rural war. There will be a water war if El Paso continues on its path of being arrogant in trying to run over us and take our water, there will be a water war. But we think the people in El Paso want the same things, the majority of people anyway, that want the same things that we do. They want a good life for their families, they want their children to have a quality of life equal to theirs and it’s the same things we want. I don’t think the people in El Paso want, once they know—have this information, to be another Los Angeles, another Phoenix, another wanna-be Mexico City. We have big problems already from the expansion of El Paso of—of over the, you know, so there’s—not—not to mention the resource depletion that they’re causing to the region from the river, taking water from the river and now maybe the aquifers out here, but congestion, infrastructure,
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schools, traffic problems, it takes a long time to drive anywhere anymore because of the gridlock in traffic and people are starting to notice that. So I think it’s high time, and it’s a big issue now with the mayoral elections, keep tuned. The—the—the developers and bankers should not control the future of El Paso and they’re the ones that have historically controlled the city council, the mayor, and the very powerful public service board that wants to take our water. They control them, the developers and the bankers, for the agenda of growth at any cost, explosive, unplanned, unsustainable growth at any cost, and that is a path that—that hurts us all, the people in the city and the people in the rural area.
DT: What is the path that you compare El Paso to? You mentioned Phoenix and Mexico City, what is it that you fear, the path that they’ve taken and these other states…
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BA: Well clearly El Paso is a border plex right now. Juarez has nearly two million people that—right across the river, El Paso has about seven hundred thousand people in their county. However, we don’t think that, most people I think out here don’t want to have double the population in twenty-five years, which is projected if things don’t change. It could very well be that way. We don’t believe that this area, because of NAFTA, the—the North American Free Trade Agreement, the promotion of that, should—should grow unsustainably just to benefit certain corporations at the expense of the people. These jobs they’re bringing in are only min—in the United States are minimum wage jobs, in Mexico a lot of the jobs, and we’re talking about hundreds of
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thousands of workers here, they bl—they pay three dollars a day. So we’re talking about basically what I consider slave labor to help corporations. And yes we’re very opposed to these companies riding on the backs of the environment and the people just to make a bunch of corporate profits and this may sound like hyperbole or whatever, but this is a very serious issue when you have growth being promoted by certain so-called leaders, bankers, and in—and—and multinational companies that want to make sure there’s enough water for them to continue expansion of—of—of these types of—of twin plant operations in warehouses and manufacturing plants and so.
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BA: Maquiladoras, yes.
DT: We talked a little bit about groundwater. I understand that you have a farm that’s on the river and I was wondering if you could talk about surface water and what’s happened to the Rio Grande.
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BA: Surface water. Yes the Rio Grande River, the once magnificent river, is on the brink of ecological collapse. It’s very biologically challenged right now because of upstream use by cities and—and agriculture, both. Every—the—the—the phrase is use it—use it or lose it, instead of letting any water down, they want to use all they can. They—the—the river is disconnected because of that.
DT: What do you mean by use it or lose it?
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BA: Well they say, well we got to—let’s plant all these pecan trees or let’s plant all this cotton or let’s—let’s—let’s have some water project here because if we don’t use the water, we have to release it downstream. And they—and there’s—that’s the attitude of use the water or you’re going to have to release it downstream and that’s a lost commodity that they don’t want to use—they don’t want to lose. We have to get away from that mindset so people look at the river as an entire basin ecosystem. It’s one thing all the way from Colorado to Brownsville. Because of upstream use, for example, and by the city of El Paso and irrigators in New Mexico and Colorado and in El Paso, we have
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this area of the river is extremely salt saline, it’s almost brackish. It’s—there’s very little water in the water in the river anymore, there’s some. There’s really not supposed to be any water below Fort Quitman here, it’s a gauging station, all the way to Presidio. There’s not supposed to be any water in the river. However magically, there’s water in there and—and—and we see El Paso in wanting to take more regular water out, for example the sus—the El Paso Los Cruces sustainable water project, well there’s nothing sustainable about this project, wanting to take more—twenty-eight percent more water out of the river than they do now, forty thousand more acre feet, this would send the river
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over the—over the edge of collapse by decreasing flows—it would decrease flows twenty-eight percent is what I should say. We—we intend to do everything to stop that project in court or—or any other way we can politically. It is not sustainable. Their project entails pushing water, cleaning it first with a treatment plant in El Paso and pushing it over the—with lift stations over the Anthony Gap Pass, a mountainous area with another five foot pipeline and injecting about a hundred million gallons a day into the Hueco Bolson, an artificial way to recharge their already nearly collapsed aquifer because they—they wa—they also want to use a portion of this water I should also state for their future needs but what they can’t use, they want to inject it in the Bolson. So it’s kind of like well this use it or lose it thing. We want to even use more than we need and
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save it in like a giant holding tank, the aquifer underground, they capture it and then inject it, that’s artificially recharging the aquifer using river water to artificially recharge the aquifer which is just hydrologically unsound number one, and—and ludicrous and very selfish for them to want to take more water then they can actually use for their growth plans. And, David, I mean I’m going all on about this but it’s very important. The—what they—what they’ve done is get a formula that each person, in El Paso people use a hundred and sixty-three gallons per day which they say that’s not too bad if you compare it to their cities down from about three hundred gallons per day per person, a hundred and sixty-three. So they get a hundred and sixty-three times well we estimate there’s going to be a million five here in El Paso in twenty—so a million five times one sixty-three gallons per day, that’s how much water we need to get to supply the city per
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year. And this is their formula on what they need. So all this water, El Paso has plenty of water right now. There’s no water crisis. This is all for future growth. This is all for future plan growth because these—the—the—like the Hunt Building Corporation who’s doing the feasibility study for the pipeline free of charge is the biggest owner of undeveloped land in El Paso County. He bought two farms in Dell City Texas to sell water to El Paso and the Hunt Building Corporation intends on constructing the pipeline to sell to El Paso. Well no wonder they’re doing a free feasibility study. They—they can’t develop all the land being the biggest owners of undeveloped land, without a—with a water scare that we don’t have enough water for the future. They want that taken care of not to scare away future growth. And they’re just very aggressively working hand in hand with the public service board more of the same of bankers and developers controlling the agenda through the public service board and the city counsel of El Paso.
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And that we hope will change in this mayoral election. We have high hopes that Mr. Ray Caballero will become mayor who is a visionary man that—that—that we believe will change things to bring the city back to the people, where the people control the government, not a few corporations.
DT: Bill, I was hoping that you might be able to sort of change tack right now and instead of talking about some of the projects to take resources out of the west Texas and Sierra Blanca area, such as the water plans we talked about, and now maybe talk about some of the proposals to bring, I wouldn’t call them resources, but…
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BA: The dregs.
DT: The dregs from other areas and dispose of here in this area. One of the proposals I think you’ve been most closely associated with has been the effort to stop the (?) stop the radioactive waste dump that was proposed at Sierra Blanca. And I was wondering if you might back up a little bit in time and talk about some of the earlier incarnations of that same radioactive waste dump, Sierra Blanca I guess was a later phase of proposals to dispose of waste at Fort Hancock and other areas.
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BA: Yeah, actually, David, the first proposal was at Dell City, Texas. The Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority, and first off there’s nothing low level about some of this waste, was proposed at Dell City, Texas in 1984 shortly after the United States government—Congress passed a Low Level Waste Policy Act. They—they proposed this at Dell City, and people in Dell City, I mean this is a farming community about fifty miles from Sierra Blanca, sixty maybe, and they just said what, you know. Actually Mrs. Lynch, Mary Lynch has a very interesting story, she could tell it better than I could but I’ll briefly tell you. She—this—this stood out in my mind when she told me this years ago. She said that she had gone to see Bill—Senator Bill Sims, you probably
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know who—know of him, Senator Bill Sims, he used to be our senator by the way, and asked him, James, Mary’s husband, they’re into construction, the Lynch brothers, were looking at the potential of having a minimum security prison in Dell City. So they asked him about supporting that proposal that the people supposedly were behind in Dell City. And he leaned back in his chair Mary tells me and says, well I don’t know about the prison Mrs. Lynch but how about a radioactive waste dump? Well Mary and James just laughed, they thought he was joking. Two weeks later, a reporter from the Austin American called up Mrs. Lynch, Mrs. Lynch being—Mary Lynch being the editor of the Hudspeth County Herald, the only county newspaper and said, how do you guys feel about being the chosen site for a radio—a radioactive waste dump for Texas? And they go, what? So they quickly organized with Linda and Bonnie and—and they started a group which because Alert Citizens for Environmental Sas—Safety, ACES.
DT: What year was this?
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BA: 1984, pretty sure. It’s before I was involved, Linda Lynch, Mary Lynch and Bonnie Lynch, they’re sisters, and got the people involved. And I guess there were some others that were concerned and started what became later as Alert Citizens for Environmental Safety, the first environmental group in Hudspeth County. And so they got together and they hired a lawyer and some consultants and eventually stopped this proposal about a year later in Dell City. The state, let’s quickly run down the history because it is worth
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repeating of—of this very se—sort—this very pathetic seventeen year history of the state trying to force radioactive waste, the State of Texas trying to force this waste on unwilling communities in Texas, main—all mainly in west Texas. After the failure of Dell City, the state pulled up stakes and—and—and went to McMullen County. Those farmers and ranchers opposed it big time and just like they did in Dell City and I won’t go into details there but through Senator Carlos Truan’s help, he drafted a bill that—that prohibited it being twenty miles from a reservoir and—and Corpus Christi had just built a reservoir on the Nueces River so that doomed the McMullen County site, this is McMullen County. So they came—also the bill that said they had to—in this bill that Truan drafted and an amendment was put on that the—the state should look at state-owned lands in west Texas, or all state-owned lands and, of course, all the state-owned lands are mainly in west Texas. There’s very—most—ninety-nine percent of them are in west Texas. So they came to Fort Hancock, Texas where I was born and proposed a nuclear dump there, less than five kilometers from the Mexican border the pro—the
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proposal. Those people organized in Fort Hancock. People in Porvenir in Mexico across the river org—helped them organize. There was a—a sister there that—a Catholic sister that organ—organize—did a lot of organizing worked to oppose the project and El Paso finally took notice and—and opposed the project legally because the—the project, the dump, was over the Hueco Bolson aquifer and very close in—very close to El Paso’s growth pattern and just too close for comfort to El Paso. So they even—they sued and after a four year legal battle won, stopped the state and District Judge Bill Moody in a
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very eloquent, beautiful decision after four years of this, ordered the state and the disposal authority of Texas, ordered the state agency not only off—out of Fort Hancock, he ordered them out of Hudspeth County, said leave in his order. Why? Because their evidence was brought in, David, this is real important, about science over—or politics over science. The map was produced by—by the county of El Paso showing by—it was produced—or—or developed by consultants for the county of El Paso—I mean, excuse me, for disposal authority of Texas, Dames and Moore. So the Dames and Moore working for the authority, that—that show—the county map showing exclusionary areas in Hudspeth County of where they should locate a nuclear dump or potential or not. Well all of it was shaded except for a little bitty place in the middle of the county. So most all
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of Hudspeth County was deemed exclusionary because of—of unsuitable hydrology, geology, complex geology, or hydro—hydrology, scientific criteria. And—but yet they were still trying to put the dump there. So that’s why Judge Moody not only ordered them off of Fort Hancock but ordered them out of the whole county because their own map showed it—showed it wasn’t suitable. So then when Judge Moody did this, what’s his name, Dan Shelly, representative Shelly from Houston introduced a bill that would force the dump onto Fort Hancock making the moot the District Judges opinion. I mean, these are very basic constitutional questions. Do we have a separation of the judicial system and the legislative system? Do—can we just appeal to the legislature to get something done if we don’t like it instead of appealing it to a higher court? This is what
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happened. There was no due process. What the county was faced with, El Paso was we spent five million dollars, that’s what they spent fighting this over four years in legal work and consultants, four years of our time, five million, and we got a good decision from the judge ordering it out and they’re going to still going to put it here anyway. What do we do? So they decided, very sadly decided to negotiate with Governor Ann Richards and the state of Texas and say—and—and El Paso (?) sponsoring a (?) El Pios—El Paso (?) sponsoring organization who had very been very active in the issue in Fort Hancock and El Paso was involved in negotiations. And Luther Jones the—the district judge of El Pa—excuse me the—the county judge of El Pas—of El Paso County who was a real bull dog in fighting this, they were all involved and faxes went back and forth and they decided on well, we’ll leave Fort Hancock alone, twenty something miles away from El Paso cou—city limits and we’ll not put it there if you allow us to have this place near Sierra Blanca that the county judge has now said it’s okay—he’s okay with. And so a deal was struck at first, the—the box that they said well this is where it’s going
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to go, actually made a box with lines was on like a little tiny rec—a long rectangle along our county line as far away from El Paso but still in Hudspeth county. They made a bigger box and—and—and—and put the town of Sierra Blanca and it’s defined by longitude and latitude, it’s a three hundred and sixty square mile box before, David, they had the entire state of Texas to look for a radioactive waste dump. The legislature by—by adding this amendment on, this bill of Dan Shelly’s that—to give them Sierra Blanca, put it in a three hundred and sixty square mile box. It gave—this—this bill also had, I
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didn’t mention, gave—gave the state eminent domain, power to enter property. Any lawsuit filed had to be filed in Travis County, that’s Austin, stripping every constitutional right we have to address the situation. So El Paso, as Linda Lynch puts it, sold out—sold us out and—and—and said, okay we’re not going to get it here but it’s going to go in no matter what y’all say. The state says it’s going to go in no matter what El Paso said somewhere in Hudspeth County. So they just—they sacrificed Sierra Blanca. She calls it—Linda calls it thirty miles of dust and I guess if you—you multiply—I’ve always teased Luther Jones, five million dollars by—by thirty miles you can see how many millions of dollars it took to get it one mile away from El Paso. You know, so really there was no victory at all, the victory was hollow to get to stop the dump. And it started all over and that’s when I got involved.
DT: What year was that?
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BA: That was—excuse me—that was 1991. Yeah, it was 1983—1984 Dell City, in 80—‘84, and then from ‘84 to—to 1987, McMullen County and then from ’87 to 1991, Fort Hancock and Hudspeth County and then Sierra Blanca 1991 to 1998.
DT: Maybe you could tell us a little bit of what happened in the ‘90s here in Sierra Blanca and how you were successful in stopping it.
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BA: Yeah. Well basically first I should mention—it’s worth mentioning how I got involved was I was married and—and I had a family and I was sitting at home at night watching the ten o’clock news on television in my bed in my bedroom with my wife and son. And I seen our county judge come on television on the local news on NBC and say and—and the report was about the defeat of the nuclear dump and what the state was going to do. And here we are and Judge Billy R. Love our county judge was on there talking about well I—I think we should look at the opportunity of hosting this facility in—in Sierra Blanca because even though we were opposed to it at Fort Hancock the people in Sierra Blanca see this as a form of maybe of economic development for jobs. So I’m going uh—uh—whoever asked us? You know, I was like in shock, you know. I says, well how can he do that, you know? And so—the next—I couldn’t sleep all night. I went outside with my wife, Gina, and stood out in the—at my house that my grandmother left me, the same spot where—excuse me—the same spot where we fed
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those scaled quail with my grandmother and looked at the Eagle mountains. And I didn’t even know where they wanted to put it to be honest with you, but I’ll tell you this, I discussed this with my wife, Gina, and said, I said look, we just have a son, we want to move to our farm and—and—my—our family farm and live here and develop what we have and now they want to put a dump here. And we agreed that it was our responsibility to do something, we could—not only because of the life we brought in the world but because we didn’t want to leave. And so we made the decision to—to well, if there’s anything wrong, well just to fight it. I mean basically, David, we had three choices. Do nothing, sell out for some quarters, and believe me they’ll—they’ll pay them, or learn
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everything we can about the project pro and con and oppose it if it’s wrong. We didn’t feel we had a choice, we chose number three, to learn about it and, of course, we did fight it because, of course, it was wrong. I’d never been involved until Sierra Blanca. My sister had been involved in Dell City helping the Lynch’s and ACES some but I never really got it until it hit home in Sierra Blanca. And I don’t regret that decision but I came—it—it came at a high cost, that decision that day, to get involved, very high cost. I’d do it again. I looked out, I should also say this quickly. I—I looked out that same day from my backyard and looked towards the Eagle mountains and it’s just really ironic that they wanted to put it later, and I didn’t know at the time where they wanted to put it, five miles from the Eagle mountains in between the Eagle mountains and the freeway,
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right off the freeway out here, east of here. And I looked at the Eagle mountains and saw—and—and I saw this—and I looked at them and I just felt—I mean it’s just really bizarre and you may laugh, but I was saying, I wasn’t drunk or anything, and I looked at those Eagle mountains and I had a feeling come over me of just something so wrong. And it was like a silent scream of everything alive on that mountain, around that mountain, the rocks, the birds, the animals, the plants, everything, screamed to me. And from that day I—from that moment it was a very profound moment in my life, you might say it was a spiritual moment and it may sound weird to you but it happened and from that moment on, I knew I would do everything, anything, to stop that project that was being forced on us.
DT: I think you used this term before, it sounds like being born again, like the kind of stories people tell about this kind of awakening.
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BA: When people do these—yeah it’s an awakening. When these things happen, and it’s not unique to me by any means, it’s happened to thousands of people. When these types of things happen, there’s always something good that happens out of it, it’s like being born again. It’s like an awakening of, you know, in the past I guess so many of us have just gone on with our normal lives and it—not that it’s not interesting but sometimes we’re just breathing in and breathing out. We’re not leaving anything behind. We’re not helping any—anybody for the future. We do have a responsibility to help, you know, future generations and our children and those that aren’t born yet and that’s not just the people.
DT: Well let’s pick up if we could about talking about many of us who walk through life breathing in and breathing out but leaving very little for the next generation and that you had this sort of awakening about some of these responsibilities with regard to the radioactive waste dump and I guess other issues. How did that affect you?
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BA: Yeah, it did change my way—my life in ways that I can’t even begin to describe but there is a positive side to this and it’s a—it’s a—it made me more—a lot more aware and awake of what’s going on. A little bit of knowledge can be a real dangerous thing. It can weigh on your mind, you can suffer from it but also you can do some things that—that leave—leave a mark to change things for the better. And that’s what I hope in some way that I’ve done, you know. My worst nightmare, my worst nightmare would be for children in the future to—my worst nightmare would be for children of the future to look back and say, why didn’t you try to stop any of this, why didn’t y’all do anything about this, now we’re living with this. You know, that’s my worst nightmare for my son or any children to say this. So I think it—it is our responsibility to look to the future and what
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our children will have to live with and what—what we’ve left here. And if—if we can impact in any way things that are destructive to the earth and to their future, to their quality of life or—or that would—might harm any life in the future, human and otherwise, I believe it’s our personal responsibility as a human being to do everything we can at whatever cost it comes. That’s my opinion, it’s my—our responsibility as humans. I mean, the earth gave us life.
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BA: Something I wanted to say when my mom interrupted us a little bit. We’ll never be the same, I’ll never be the same after the awakening of what they—of—of what we saw, what I call an awakening of what we, you know, of my consciousness about what’s going on. It is—I don’t think I could stop now if I wanted to, not that I want to, but I—it’s real hard when you see something that’s wrong and that you can’t do, you know, you want to do something about it, you feel like you have to do something about it. But it’s real special to see people like in Monahans where there—where this same proposed site went to, the nuclear waste, and they—this—the Enviro Care of Texas wanted to store waste
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above ground at Barstow, Texas privately and what they call it, a shared isolation or a shared storage. And there’s a lot of opponents, there’s some opponents that call me and saw my picture and quotes about our victory at Sierra Blanca in Texas Monthly and asked me for help. So yes, we—I felt compelled and a responsibility to help those people with my knowledge. And, you know, it’s not—it’s not just about getting it out of my back yard. It’s also about not having our neighbors go through the same thing and what’s the right policy for all of Texas. See, David, it’s—sometimes it’s hard to relate to people when you don’t live there, you’re disconnected. Like a lot of people in Aus—for example, a lot of people in Austin are disconnected from what happens out here in west Texas. It doesn’t make them bad people, they just don’t live here so why should they care. So when—when, you know, this—this disconnect, I guess I was guilty of it for a long time. I think, for example, I wasn’t involved in the Dell City site and I wasn’t involved and here comes someone, you’ll have to cut there. A salesman.
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I guess also that, it’s real special, David, to see people that have awakened and have changed their lives from like I said breathing in and out to becoming an activist and being involved in their community where they’ll never be the same. Not just on, you know, like for—a case that stands out really—really drove home the point to me in my mind is that I was helping these people, just regular people in Monahans, Texas fight Enviro Care of Texas’ plans to store waste above ground at Barstow in Ward County about a hundred and fifty miles from here. They—they supported us, in fact, Ward County had a resolution against the Sierra Blanca dump, one of many, and so when they called me up after seeing my picture and story, called ‘Clean Living’ in Texas Monthly, I said, yes
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I’ll—we’ll help you. Y’all need to start your own group, but we’ll help you with information and I’ll go there to speak or whatever we need. And I did for year but I saw—I would meet with these people, they call themselves the friends of Ward County. Laura Burnett, who’s the lady that called me up and her friends, these are just people that were really opposed to this, I’d see them talking and these are like, some of them little old ladies and some of them not so old and district clerk of the—of the Ward County and whatnot. And you’d see them and I’d talk to them and I’m saying, you know, in one of their meetings at—at the city council lady’s house, one lady that opposed it, Clarise Goth, you know I have to tell you this, it’s very special to see ordinary people that really, and excuse me, I don’t mean any disrespect, not really in—that involved with their community, awaken and become real involved after—this brings—brings your—your true community spirit out. I said, you—you people will never be the same, you’re awakened now and now whenever you see something wrong, you’re going to be involved in it. I’ll warn you that because it’s what’s going to happ—that’s what happened to me. So it’s a very powerful thing to see just ordinary people when they’re faced with something like this that’s an intrusion in their lives, that may change their life, become awakened and—and become a person that—that’s not just breathing in and out anymore and letting life pass by, they’re involved directly in helping people that live now and
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people that aren’t born yet. So that’s just a real special thing because we need more people like that. And so the other side, the people that are wanting to do this don’t realize that they’re creating an army of people when they do this thing. A lot of us continue on, we don’t stop after we stop the project in—in our home. I mean, it would be irresponsible of me, David, to scream bloody no here in Sierra Blanca and then let my neighbors take this. That would be immoral, bartering, you know, it would be wrong in a sense, so that’s the way I am and so.
DT: Could you take us back a few years and talk about how you did get started at home here in Sierra Blanca with the fight against the proposal of the nuclear waste dump.
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BA: How I got involved?
DT: Yeah in ’91 and take us through to ’98.
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BA: Well sure. I did—already did tell you about the awakening that I had when we saw the proposal—or judge on TV saying we wanted it, right. So I already went through that part. So that’s really the—the—the poi—the turning point in my life that awakened me, that’s what awakened me is seeing the judge going on TV without asking anybody.
DW: Maybe the idea is to take it to you being awakened now. How do you deal with the other people around here because you can’t fight every one?
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BA: Okay—okay. So after—David, after I saw there was something wrong and I needed to do something about it, we decided to—I talked with other people in town that were also alarmed, not a lot but some, and we started a group called Save Sierra Blanca. First we were called Huds—Hudspeth County Alert Citizens for Environmental Safety, kind of an off chute of ACES in Dell City. And I talked to Linda Lynch and her mom. I actually I should have mentioned this also. Before I started Save Sierra Blanca, we went to—I was invited to go to Glenrose, Texas with some other people from Austin, activists in Austin that were also opposed to this project, Don Gardner from Austin, Mavis Bellal, Lon Bernum who’s now a state legislator, Karen Hadden, who now works for the (?) Coalition, Tom Smitty Smith, public citizen, Jeff Sibley, who helped stop the dump at
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McMullen County that now lives in Austin, and others, I don’t want to leave anyone out but we all met at Glenrose which is the site of the twin thousand megawatt reactors of Texas Utilities in a trailer park there at Glenrose. We toured the nuclear power plant and talked about starting a group, which we did and we named it the Texas Nuclear Responsibility Network.
DT: And this is the site at Comanche Peak?
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BA: Comanche Peak which—which generates about fifty percent—almost fifty percent of the volume of all so-called low-level radioactive waste in Texas. There’s two thousand megawatt Westinghouse pressure—pressure water reactors there at Glenrose in—in Somervell County. So we met there and started this group and actually Mary Lynch asked me to go because she couldn’t go. And so that’s how I met all these people that we started the state group. So I came back and we started Save Sierra Blanca and we had a group of about fifty people that were interested, that would attend meetings. And then we had others that would come out for a hearing. And no—and April 16th 1992 there was a public hearing held by law at our county courthouse. Over six hundred people came out to that hearing, mainly everyone from a lot of adults from Hudspeth
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County, Dell City, some from Fort Hancock and Sie—a lot from Sierra Blanca. That public hearing in our small district courtroom, in our adobe courthouse, was a very telling moment that we just didn’t want it. It was a public hearing for public comment about the—the disposal authority’s choice of the selection of the Faskin Ranch—purchasing the Faskin Ranch which they eventually did for one million dollars, well nine hundred and fifty thousand and just had to have a public hearing before they did that. And they got a big earful, just like Dr. Gibertow who the chairman of the authority said at the time, if anyone left here without a clear indication of this hearing that the people don’t want it,
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they have a very serious hearing problem. So there was so many people, David, there was about three hundred inside the small district courtroom and they had to set up speakers outside on the lawn just so people could hear. There was people peering through the windows, the ones that didn’t walk off because they couldn’t get in. So that hearing in—in April of ’92 was the—the first time we actually had a—a—a—a voice and there was a lot of media from Mexico and from the—and from the Texas state media that was watching all this event. So that—that happened and then, of course, we—the authority set up an office here. They started talking about their community—community benefit package plan which was—which would, you know, as the acceptance for the
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dump we’d be getting money. The attorney general ruled, Dan Morales, that we couldn’t get any money of the—from the planning and implementation fund, these impact fees for the—for the county in acceptance of the—or to offset the placement of this dump. He wouldn’t—and Attorney General Dan Morales ruled we couldn’t get a penny until the dump was in under state law unless the legislature wanted to revisit it. Unfortunately, and I do want to touch on this and hope we have a few minutes to talk about this later, we’re very politically disenfranchised here. Our own representative, Pete Gallago worked with—I mean, this is the guy that represents us in the—our state capital who said he was against the facility, he wasn’t, drafted a house bill to allow us to get this money, working with our county judge, sludge judge Bill Love to get us the right to have—to—to get the ten percent of the planning and implementation fund which is about a million dollars a year for public projects in Hudspeth County, Sierra Blanca mainly. So when—
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after that happened, there were some people in Sierra Blanca that for the love of money thought that, well maybe this isn’t so bad after all and maybe we can benefit from this project. I would say they were in the minority but they were a vocal minority. I would say they were less than ten percent of the community, but it was the banker, it was the school superintendent, it was the county judge, it was the commissioner, it was some of the people in business here, business community, all thought they could prosper and profit and make Sierra Blanca grow somehow, which is ludicrous, by getting these monies for these public projects. And I—I really believe very strongly that they would have been against this project, everyone—nearly everyone, if they didn’t think they could
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make some money personally for themselves, not just for everyone else but, you know, through a gravel contract or something. So to me that’s not—it’s a negative land use so. There were some that did buy into this—into this project and then there was—it’s worthy to say that many people in Husbu—in Sierra Blanca, I mean, keeping in mind we’re about seventy percent of Mexican origin, the median income’s about eight thousand dollars here, forty percent of us are below the poverty level and there’s only about eight hundred people in this town. People have been historically beat down and oppressed, it’s—especially the Mexican people and I’m half Mexican, they have been, so people were afraid they think that if they speak out, even if they’re against it, they’re going to lose their job or—and, of course, the county is the biggest employer, or—and something bad is going to happen to their family and nothing good is going to come of it because we
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can’t stop it anyway. It’s a sense of being powerless and helpless is what it is and I felt it too but I overcame that because I knew this was wrong and they couldn’t force something on us if we would stand up against it and eventually we did do that. So, you know, the—the other towns would oppose it but since has been—I mean we have to understand, three of the four locations over the past seventeen years have been in Hudspeth County. This has been going on a long time. It gets awful tiring so people were—were saying, you know, we can—we can’t st—this is getting old, we can’t stop this, you know, and they’re going to put it somewhere here, they won’t give up on us. The people in the other—other
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towns, Dell City and Fort Hancock. So it was just, the way I became, David, it’s like, well no one—hardly anybody wants to do anything about it, they feel like nothing can be done about it. Even if we had a petition with eight hundred people on it, we still have it and even had a petition demanding the county judge resign, with about four hundred, but yet none of these people hardly would ever speak out. They were afraid to speak out in the media. And so I feel like I—I was in the position of like making me more obsessed and more committed and a compulsive obsession is what it is of thinking, well God I’ve got to do everything I can, I’ve got to do more and more or the dump’s going to come in. It’s kind of like a big weight—a big load on your back to think that, you know. And so then it’s not like I like my name in the media, believe me, I—before this I was a very shy, introverted person but they—when they awakened me, you know, I’ll briefly say this, this is a story worth repeating.
[End Reel #2136]
DT: Bill, I was hoping you could complete the story that you were telling us before about a meeting in Midland where you realized that your personality had sort of evolved.
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BA: Yeah, I was always a shy, introverted per—person. My mom remembers when I was growing up that even when I was like eight or nine years old I wouldn’t hardly talk to people and I would ask her to ask people like at stores if they’d—if, you know for—for me instead of asking them myself so I was really shy. So after this hit here, you know, and—and saw I was going to be involved with it to oppose it, I went—what stands out is I went to a meeting in Midland, Texas, the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal board of directors, Dr. Gibertow and other appointed board members by the governor all talking about maybe buying the Faskin Ranch for radioactive waste disposal in—near Sierra Blanca. Here they all are all these guys and women are up there with their Armani suits and really imposing and intimidating and very authoritive, being the authority that they are—disposal authority, and so they do all their business and, of course, the last
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thing is the public forum, I mean the public input, you know. They’re going to hear from us after they’ve made all the decisions. So I go, well—you know, all these little scenarios they would go through your mind like, oh God, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what I’m going say, I’m going to screw up and I’m going to say the wrong thing and then the dump’s going to come into Sierra Blanca. You know, all these dumb scenarios and you get butterflies and get scared about speaking in front of these crowd of people and these people from Austin. And I go, you know what, this—my little voice in my head said, you know what, you’d better get up there and say something and keep saying it or the dump will come in. From that moment on, I will tell you, it got easier and easier to talk to these people in authority, whether they be legislators of any kind or even the president of the United States. It—sure, I’d still feel maybe a little bit nervous but they’re no better than we are, they’re—they’re—we’re not any less than they
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are and I—I thought, you know, I finally understood that we have the right and the responsibility to speak to these people. So I wasn’t intimidated by them anymore. And like I said, it got easier and easier until I don’t care who’s sitting across from—from me, I’ll give my opinion, and have, to the White House, you know, in Washington, to president—to Vice President Al Gore, to Julio Haveres, the (?) in Mexico. You know, it’s very important people we’ve talked to about this issue and—and they don’t intimidate me anymore.
DT: Could you talk about how you’ve become empowered and carried through to stop the Sierra Blanca dump?
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BA: How what?
DT: How you’ve become empowered to go ahead and stop the dump the last I guess five or six years that you went up against it?
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BA: Oh yeah—yeah.
DT: The last five or six years, your effort against it.
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BA: Well it—from ’91 it kind of went on and after the public hearing, you know, we’d have meetings and we were organizing. My—the group we also co-founded which is worth mentioning, I—I co-founded a group called—here in Sierra Blanca called the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund. Three of us organized that group in a motel room here in Sierra Blanca after a meeting we had. And I was one—I was one of the three founding board members, Don Gardner and Les Brething were the others. And we had to organize and through the media, we tried to get out information about the project and why—why it’s opposing—why it’s a bad idea for all of Texas. And originally the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund was—was formed to oppose and contest the project in the
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state hearings process, state office of administrative hearings. That was our mission. I had—I had worked very hard to convince my fellow board members who I got some more on later from—they were supposed to have a majority of them from Hudspeth County to convince them that we had to be—do activism and organizing, not just be a legal defense fund but we had to take up from what no one else was doing and that’s organize and—and stop this dump politically, the way that we would stop it. That was ver—that was—you know, we have to—sure we have to fight legislative battles and legal battles but we also have to make sure we do the proper organizing to get people up in arms to affect the politics which in the end did kill it—the politics of it all. And we have to remember, David, in all these issues, and I hope anyone seeing this will remember this.
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This isn’t about political science, excuse me, this isn’t about science it’s about political science and that is what—the driving force that puts these things here. The—the dump was brought in by politics and the only way the dump can leave is by politics, these are political decisions. So again, it’s not about science it’s about political science and I’d—I’d vote very hard to convince my board of directors, I was kind of alone for a long time, of this. They—for example quickly, and—you know, there was a compact proposed to bring radioactive waste from Maine and Vermont, you know, and (?) decomissioning waste, thirty years of this. Texas, Ann Ri—Governor Richards, Sarah Weddington the lobbyist for the state of Maine pushed that right through, went through like a rocket through the House of Representatives and the Senate. Went on to Maine and in Maine
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they got to vote on it by referendum. I traveled to Maine asking them to vote no but they voted yes anyway, seventy percent of them voted yes to send their waste to Texas by—and, of course, their legislature then approved it, Vermont legislature approved it. And it went to Washington to be anointed by the United States Congress. And so I—I had to convince my board, David, that it was in our best interest to oppose this all the way, all the way to congress and they said, no we can’t focus on that, we’ve got all this other stuff to do and the hearings process that’s coming up and all that. And I’m saying look, it’s a political issue. By doing—by giving me funds to go to Washington to oppose this in D.C., to lobby against it and to bring out, you know, scream against it to the media, we win either way. If the compact passes, we still win because we make it stink. If—if we
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stop the compact, so much the better. They would never give me any money to go up there so out—again I had to go with my mom’s money to Washington. They never would give me a penny to go up there. Miraculously because of three people’s work, actually about four or five, we stopped the compact, a record vote of 243 to 176 on September 16th 1995. That compact was defeated in the United States House of Representatives, the first time in the history of the United States that one of these nuclear waste compacts had ever been debated in congress, much less stopped. They—usually they’re—they’re going through on—on—on non-controversial measures, just go ahead
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and appro—anoint what the states had done and that’s it. However they try to do this non-controversial, non-voice vo—thing in—in—in the house and there was a lot of opposition, bi-partisan opposition that we had generated, the republicans and democrats, and it failed. So then I can’t—I’ll never forget the board meeting—the—the telephone conference with my board and they’re saying, Bill, y’all stopped the compact, how did you do it, you know, we’re blown away. And I’m saying, I told you guys, you know, even if we hadn’t of stopped it, we’d made it stink. So this is a lesson, these are, you know, if we—the politics are really what take it out and we, you know, you don’t know what you can do until you try. And we did then, David, I guess I should go on, build upon that. However, I shouldn’t say that Governor Bush immediately upon the defeat of this nuclear dump compact with Maine and Vermont, I mean, we’d blind sided the nuclear industry. They didn’t know—they—they couldn’t believe that they lost, you know. They’re not used to not getting their way, all these reactor operator, the—the reactor owner. Governor Bush ordered his—made a statement that he wanted the
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compact reintroduced in congress. He ordered his state office of—his—Texas has a office of state federal relations in Washington. He ordered his office to get on it and with Roy Coffee and others, Susan Rich, they—they worked the congress for two years working side by side, hand in hand with the nuclear industry. They called it the—the compact coalition, working hand in hand with the utilities to get this bill passed using our state money. And so I—when I would go lobby up there after the defeat of this compact because it was going to be reintroduced, I’d see all the state—the state off—the state office—the state federal relations up there doing the same thing. And, of course, we couldn’t match that type of—they had a permanent presence there with about thirty
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people, how could have we matched that, you know, we don’t have the money. So eventually it did pass in 1997 and it did—and then it did pass the senate in 1998. And, of course when it did, we had had this very—I mean we should also—I should also say that we had the—the Council of Environmental Quality, that’s the White House, convinced to have President Clinton veto this bill. We had them convinced to veto it on environmental justice grounds because of the site, they were only looking at Sierra Blanca. The—this compact didn’t mention Sierra Blanca anywhere in it, they could have—it was all free—they could put it anywhere in Texas but let’s get real, everyone knows that they were only looking at one site, Sierra Blanca, and that—that this money, the fifty million would—would—that Maine and Vermont would give us would basically construct a site. And they really—it was really—well, in any case, President Clinton I should say, we were told by the Council of Environmental Quality, CEQ, Kathleen McGinty that the president may not be able to veto this because it had passed by a—a wide margin in the
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senate. And I—and I told Mrs. McGinty and other C—the Council of Environmental Quality people, I saying well, what’s—what you do, what’s expedient or what’s right? If—if your—if your boss the president believes in his, and this is—and we’re talking about a meeting with (?) and other people there that were supporting us at the white house, saying if your people believe, Ms. McGinty that—and then the president truly believes in his own executive order on environmental justice, which says that federal agencies should be considering, you know, cumulative impacts on—on disproportionate impacts on minority communities, then he will veto this bill. If he won’t, that—that executive order is not worth the paper it’s printed on. If Sierra Blanca isn’t a case of
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environmental racism and environmental injustice, I don’t know what is and I gave her the reasons. So he did—he did sign the compact into law in September of 1998, why? Because there was two sponsors of the compact, Senator Leahy from Vermont brings one to mind, Senator Lay fr—Leahy from Vermont was on the Judiciary Committee which was overseeing the possible impeachment of the president and was also a sponsor of the compact. So I guess you could say we got Monica-ed. And—and—and the compact passed for that very reason because he didn’t want to make mad, excuse me, to piss off Senator Leahy and we’ve done a lot of accountability of the hypocrisy of Bernie Sanders who’s supposed to be a progressive and Senator Leahy, Olympia Snow and of…
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BA: Yeah, socialist, representative from Vermont and, of course, our own senator, Kay Bailey Hutcheson and Phil Graham, we’ve done a lot of accountability on them. In fact, her office has called the capital police on me when I was talking with them and that’s a whole other story. In any case, I should say that even though the compact passed and was signed into law, we made it stink so bad that it delayed this whole process, just like I told my board members and everyone. I says we delayed this whole process two years with Senator Wellstone’s help, oh we’re going to have to stop here, here comes the Coke salesman.
DT: So you’ve brought us up through 1998 when the compact was passed and I was wondering if you could maybe complete the story about the nuclear waste dump at Sierra Blanca.
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BA: Yeah—yeah. Well after, like I said, after President Clinton signed the bill into law, I was saying that we succeeded in making the compact stink in the media, the Washington Post, New York Times, a lot of different magazines and national newspapers. And I should also mention, David, that they were starting to feel the heat in Washington in the State Department because of Mexico. This is a very important part of our work, it’s not just in this country but in Mexico. I should tell you that we put—we started with resolutions and, I know this may be off the track but I want to get this in. We started with a resolution in El Paso. We went to Juarez, the city of Juarez and started a—and had a resolution passed opposing Sierra—the Sierra Blanca dump. We got one passed in Chihua—State of Chihuahua in the state congress. Eventually we had seventeen counties and twenty-two cities in Texas and every state from Baja all the way to the state
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across from Brownsville opposing, that’s every state in Mexico on the border, every county except for Hudspeth County along the border all the way to Brownsville, bizarre isn’t it? And twenty-two towns and cities on the border opposing this. We—we also I should mention, and Linda was—Linda Lynch was a part of this, went to Mexico City, in fact Linda did a lot of this work and—and worked with a group (?) and had a press conference in 1992. This is the first time that we brought up the La Paz Accord, which is a—an agreement, a little—it was a little known agreement, now it’s known because of us more, that prohibits—that sets up I should say, a sensitive zone a hundred kilometers on either side of our common border, the frontier with Mexico. It’s a sensitive environmental zone and no new projects should be placed in this sensitive zone that could impact the border environment. It was originally proposed by Ronald Reagan because of sewage washing up in San Diego. And he asked for it and the Mexican gave it to him and it was ratified in their senate. So it was—it’s a treaty in Mexico. It’s kind of like—not a treaty here because it was never ratified in our senate, it’s an agreement or an accord, but the presidents of both countries did sign it, Reagan and the Mexican president. And we brought that up with the press conference and, of course, it made a lot of media—it gave us a lot of media attention in Mexico throughout the whole country for about a week and got the attention in Mexico City that had already been opposing the dump at Fort Hancock before, with Salinas. After passing all these resolutions years
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later, you know, several years later in the Mexican states, we then went to the Communado Deputados, the Mexican Congress and took our expert, Dr. Resnicoff to tell them about the size and scope of the project to the entire congress to testify and to work with the different parties.
DT: Did he talk about the (?)
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BA: Yes—yes, the fault line through the dump, yes. And so Dr. Resnicoff brought his geologist and—and Kim Nolton and they went to Mexico City and did—did that work. And then afterwards Mexico, the con—congress of Mexico were talking about six hundred deputados, that’s Mexican congressman, did fail to pass anything because they couldn’t agree on the language but the next year—I should say in ’97, they didn’t do anything. In ’98 they passed a resolution after they saw all—of course, all the border states had passed resolutions, they knew all about this and about all of our briefing about what the project and how it could apac—impact Mexican natural resources, the water, the air, whatnot. And so using the La Paz Accord as a—as a reason to oppose this, they passed this resolution demanding that the dump be moved—relocated. I should also say in this limited time that we took Mexican federal senators and congressmen to Washington I—that I’d asked to go, invited, to lobby against the compact in the senate. And—and a delegation of eight Mexican federal congressman, Senator Norberto Corer who’s a real hero in my eyes, very outspoken, very eloquent man, educated in University of Arizona was their leader and spoke and basically said the same thing that the
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resolution eventually said, I should say the—the resolution that demanded that the dump be moved. He said this the same thing, David, to the aides that would meet with us in the United States Senate even though that the senators had three weeks notice to meet with these—this Mexican delegation. Not one senator would come out to meet with them, an insult to this—these very refined group of legislators from Mexico. You see, in Mexico when a—when you’re—when—when a fellow senator, a colleague, even if it’s from another country comes to visit, out of respect and courtesy, you come out and shake his hand, even if he’s your enemy. That’s out of basic respect and decorum. However, in our congress, they didn’t meet out of lack of respect to the country of Mexico, they refused to even come meet with him even though they had proper notice. They only sent their aides out. However, it was okay. Senator Corer from Baja told me, he said, Bill,
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that’s okay, you know, Mexico would never do that but now we have the ammunition to go back to Mexico City to convince our congress to pass this resolution and they did. They passed it in the wording the very same thing he said at press conferences in Washington and with the aides, like Senator Monahan’s aides and different senators aides that he visited with—that the delegation visited with. He said, you know, at the press conference, he said, you know, in Mexico we have—we passed a bill called the La Paz Accord at the request of your president, Ronald Reagan in 1983 that sets up a common border of a hundred kilometers of—of a sensitive environmental zone. Now the State of Texas wants to place a radioactive waste dump, a facility, near our common border, eight
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kilometers from our common border, virtually on our doorstep. The State of Texas proposes on bringing radioactive waste including decommissioning torn apart nuclear plants from Maine and Vermont. We’re talking about bringing radioactive waste, Mr. Corer said, Senator Corer from the Canadian border and dumping it on the Mexican border. We will not stand for this. If you would like to place this facility next to New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas or Louisiana near the border there, go ahead, we can’t stop you. You can put it on the Texas border near there, we can’t stop you, it’s out of the zone. But when you’re talking about bringing it from the Canadian border and dumping our doorstep, it becomes our business, especially after your—your president came over here and said that we set up the zone to not impact the United States natural resources.
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We demand the same of our natural resources and we will oppose this in our congress, legislatively, legally, diplomatically, we will take this to the world court if we have to and we will—and we will take it to the Council of Environmental Concerns in Quebec that’s put in place with NAFTA. They even—they—that—that—that was all said and done. Just a side note to that, eventually did put the complaint to the CEC, Counsel of Environmental Concerns in Quebec which is the United States, Mexico, and Canada, the EPAs of all three. And they said, oh we don’t want to hear that, that’s a state issue, they always try to switch it around. And these Mexican congressmen said, either you take the complaint or we will pull out of NAFTA, that’s what the congress threatened them with, not that they might do it, but they threatened them with it, the—the entire congress did.
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We’re talking about six hundred deputados and two hundred senators. I should also say quickly, David, for—for this archive that—that President Bush, Governor Bush at the time, flew to Mexico City in 1988, July of 1998 and tried to—and had a meeting with about ten deputados that were his so-called friends to ask them and implore them not to pass this resolution, it would hurt us—hurt Texas. Attempts and everything was fine. I had a friend that attended that meeting and one that didn’t that witnessed it and he said that, yeah the meeting was very cordial and in the end though, even those ten deputados at the dinner party with Bush signed onto the resolution, not obeying Governor Bush, or—or observing his request because they didn’t want it to be 590 to 10. Hi (?). So, you know there’s—it’s these types of things that are just been—(?) may I help you?
DT: And tell us about the last phase of the fight against the Sierra Blanca radioactive waste dump and when the commissioners at Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission finally decided to vote against siting it at Sierra Blanca. How did that come about.
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BA: How—how it came about, I should probably give you a little bit of background about laying the—laying it out of—of what we have done. Not only has all this been opposition for many years and a lot of media attention to this issue locally, regionally, state-wide, nationally, internationally, whatever, we’d also done a lot of work in accountability of—of our elected officials including Governor Bush who had revived the compact like we’ve talked before and eventually helped get it passed in the United States Congress and basically promoted and done everything he could to see the project along to be built here in Sierra Blanca. So when he announced that he was going to be running for Governor again on his road to the White House, I have to tell you that we—it was—I—I
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was the—the chairman of the accountability campaign which I started that cam—that committee myself and part of the accountability campaign is—is our local official—our—our officials—our elected officials and Governor Bush being our chief elected official here in Texas and a proponent of this, we targeted him. And what we did was he’d be going to—on his—on the campaign trail and, of course, Gary Mauro had announced against him, I made the deci—decision and the committee agreed that we should follow around Governor Bush and let everybody know at these rallies that he was having—at least in west Texas, we couldn’t follow him around all over the state, that what he was doing here, to hold him accountable. The first one was in Marathon, Texas. He came on a working vacation to promote tourism in Marathon and tourism of the Big Bend and, of course, satellite trucks were all over and the Aus—the Capital Press Corps followed him because he was an—everyone knew that he was going to run for the president—to be the president—candidate for presidency. So over there at the Gage Motel in Mar—little bitty Marathon with about two hundred people only on Highway 90, we set up shop across the road and he was having a big shin dig there at the Gage and
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twenty of us, all wearing cowboy hats, got behind a banner that said, Governor Bush pushes radio—radioactive waste near the Big Bend—no Governor Bush pushes Yankee nuclear waste near the Big Bend. And there was some arguments of some people that weren’t on our committee that we were being too hard on the governor and that we should appeal to him about tourism and they just didn’t understand what we’d already been through with the governor and our pro—previous governor Ann Richards and they weren’t going to change their mind and that we had to—we had to hold the line and get tough with them. So when we did this protest, the media picked up on it and we got a good op ad out of the Austin American and—I mean should say an editorial the next day
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and a big picture of us in front of the Gage Hotel in the—in the state section of the Austin Stateman—Statesman. And, of course, they’re saying that in the editorial that—that west Texas didn’t have to be reminded about we’re a tourism jewel, that we already know that, but we don’t need low-level flights by the Air Force. We don’t need marines killing our children on—on the river on joint taskforce six and we certainly don’t need us sludged up in a nuclear waste dump from Maine and Vermont here. And so it—and so that was the—the first hit on Governor Bush, that we already know what tourism is here. We then followed him to El Paso, it was an orchestrated rally at the community college, the main campus there of the community college and, keep in mind that Governor Bush had been coming, this is very important about leading to the defeat of the dump, it’s really what pushed it over the edge. Governor Bush was—he made fifteen or twenty visits to El Paso over the past two years in ’97 and ’98, I mean Laura Bush would—would come with the Governor and they would go to the (?) Bakery and eat (?) and—and—and (?) and everyone would—all the Mexican people would clap and scream and were just star struck
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by the Governor. Keeping in mind this is a democratic straw county stronghold where mainly Mexican people, Mex—people of Mexican origin. So they were actually at the Bellwether I should tell you for the Governor Bush proceeding and this was—I read Forbes and Fortune and there’s actually articles in Forbes and Fortune stating that the republican party believed that if he could take a county like El Paso, democr—predominately democratic county, that was a Hispanic county, that he could prove to his party that he could take the Hispanic vote for the Y2K presidential vote. And that’s why he was coming out here. And his approval rating soared with all these visits, it was like eighty-five, ninety percent, you know, which is unreal, you know. We always vote democratic in—in El Paso County and a lot of these counties out here in west Texas.
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And so at the community college they had this rally and here he is, it was all orchestrated with a lot of satellite trucks around and—and they—they’d actually bussed in kids from Segundo barrio, the poor part of El Paso to come up, get them out of school, they were all happy, bus loads of them, to hold up Bush signs and—and—and campaign signs and the plan was all these people were going to have a rally and there were several thousand of them at the community college campus. And he was going to—the plan was that he was going to walk by on the sidewalk up to the gazebo and make his speech for the rally and everyone’s going to clap and there’s a band there, some—some school band’s playing and mariachis playing music and it was really orchestrated. So here we are, ten of us again, we came from Sierra Blanca and a few of us from El Paso and took the same sign
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that we had at Marathon and said Governor Bush pushes Yankee waste near El Paso instead of Big Bend because it’s actually pretty near El Paso too. And we all had them folded up, we had signs and we actually had foam block heads made of foam with Governor Bush’s picture on the foam block head that you put on your head and the eyes had nuclear symbols in them. And so we whipped those out when Governor Bush started walking by and people put on the foam block heads and we’re teasing him with that you know. And then some of the kids that saw us with these other sides in preparation said, what are you all doing? Little kids, six and seven and eight years old. And I said well we’re—we’re going to be protesting against this nuclear dump here shortly because they want to put it in Sierra Blanca and those kids would say, we saw that on the news, give us
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those signs. They dropped the Bush signs and picked up—well the security guards were knocking them out of their hands and I’m saying leave those kids alone, they asked for the signs, they have a right to do what they want. And so some of them still had the signs. Well here he comes walking down the sidewalk, the gauntlet of all these kids, some of the scream—all of them scream—everyone’s screaming and yelling for the governor. So then we unfurled the banner and the block heads come out and he gives these guys with the block heads a really dirty look, the governor does. And—and then he goes up to the gazebo and—and the band plays and all this and he makes a stump speech, his campaign speech there. And we had—we had one guy in our group that just disrupts his speech by saying—by yelling out right in the middle of his speech, what about Sierra Blanca in a Mexic—Mexican accent. And the governor would stumble and then catch up
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with his speech and then another minute would go by and they would say, what about Sierra Blanca, you know really loud (?), you know, a scream. And so this went on about four times and people were getting—a few people that supported Governor Bush were getting quite peeved at us for doing this, hey you all be quite, because we’re here and it is our business. And so, sure enough, they had a press conference in private in the auditorium after the rally and the media asked him, well Governor Bush, what about Sierra Blanca. And, of course, this was a turning moment, he goes, it was beyond belief, David. The governor goes, he said—he actually stated this, he says, this is a very emotional issue, condescending, this is a very emotional issue. And I’m listening, I’m listening to these people. But this isn’t about high level fuel rods, high-level radioactive
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waste, this is about low-level radioactive waste, it’s x-rays, and syringes, x-rays like’s being produced all over El Paso right now. So this was printed in the paper in the El Paso Times and here we are talking about decommissioned nuclear power plants and other stuff. Well, you know, we’ve been working on the media to educate because the media sometimes doesn’t understand. They—they—they don’t have the time to really research anything and they—they don’t want to believe us at face value, we have to prove everything but they’ll believe the authority and the state about everything and print what they have to say. So they started looking at this and one reporter, I saw a couple of reporters started doing some research and started finding out, well number one like we’d been saying all along, x-rays are not radioactive waste, they’re invisible. They’re produced by an x-ray machine that you just turned off and off with an electron tube and there’s no radioactive waste involved, even the film is recyclable. So, and, of course,
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looking at the figures from the TNR, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and from the Disposal Authority of Texas and from the—the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission all state that ninety-nine and one half percent of all radioactive waste in this compact and what the State of Texas produced, ninety-nine and a half percent of the curies, the radioactivity, come from nuclear power plant waste and over seventy percent of the volume comes from nuclear power plants. And that’s history—that’s for the whole United States (?) more or less. And so they started saying this and saying, well the governor’s trying to blow some smoke here just like the
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authority is and they published it. And after all these series of events of us holding the governor accountable, his popularity plummeted in El Paso. There was a pole by Kay Associates done, the poling organization for the El Paso Times in contract with the El Paso Times, the newspaper there and the headline of the day shortly after all this went down with the governor, was eighty-nine percent of El Paso is against the Sierra Blan—or opposed Sierra Blanca nuclear dump, that was the headline of the day. And (?) Governor’s Bush’s campaign chair in El Paso was just devastating, you know, they built it up to nearly ninety percent and—and her—her popularity rating had gone down to forty percent or less. And so the decision, you know, later—you know, later that year in October, actually to be—you know, October 23rd 1998 was the hearing date for—finally set for the Sierra Blanca facil—the nuclear dump facility. Keeping in mind that two administrative law judges nearly a year before after looking at this issue and volumous reports and hearings and—and actually a legal proceedings for weeks and weeks and
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weeks, recommended against this site being built. Two state office administrative hearings examiners, Keri Sullivan and Mr. Rogan said this shouldn’t go here because of the buried fault that we’d discovered in the license application. And so the commissioners, three commissioners that Governor Bush appointed were going to make the final decision. They could—they could say over—they could just say, well we’re not going to go with the recommendation of the hearing examiners, we’re going to vote to build the dump or not, it’s up to them, three people, it went down to that. And, you know, here it goes back to believing. If you believe in yourself and you know you’re in the right and you have the tenacity to see it through, it’s a predetermined—it’s—it’s a—it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy on what you do and what you can’t do if you can see it the way through. And I knew from then, and we—I knew we were going to stop it anyway but I knew when the hearing date was set, the final hearing date, two weeks before the
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election of Governor—re-election of Governor Bush, I knew there was no way, that we had lost—we had won. The announcement was the day that I knew we’d won. Now some people are so much in denial that we can actually win, most people, they still thought there was something fishy or sinister or they’re trying to pull something here. But no, the Governor wouldn’t have allowed this nor would the TNRCC commissioners scheduled this hearing two weeks before the election unless it was going to be a no. They would have scheduled it two weeks after the election if it was going to be a yes and that is what happened. Apr—September 23rd 1998, three commissioners, Barry McBee being the—the head of the commission, Barry McBee was the first one to say it, he said, and I
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quote, he said, this agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission has never heard a more lar—a larger or more important case than this that has so much interest to so many thousands of people. We are ba—we—we are committed to, and I don’t believe this, to—to rule on this on—on science and it has to be full science, not just a partial, you know, proving something partially in other words. He says, I recommend that this license application be denied and I—I con—I conclude and con—and—and agree with the hearings examiners. The other two, Ralph Marquez and Mr. Baker agreed and they unanimously voted to—to not construct the dump in Sierra Blanca. So, of course, it was a very sweet moment I’ve got to tell you this because here I am sitting in a room, a room with about three hundred and fifty people, a hearing room, speakers set
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outside with lots more listening, sitting next to representative Chavez, Norma Chavez from El Paso, state rep and I see—I see a lot of the people that I’ve been working against and opposing and a lot of people I’ve been working with in Mexico and in Texas and seeing the expressions on their faces, even people from Sierra Blanca here. And I actually saw people crying from the authority that the dump wasn’t going to go in, crying, that—they’d actually stated in the paper the day before that they’d be praying the dump would go in. And that’s the most bizarre thing, Susan Diamond from the authority. But seeing those expressions of those people’s faces, the lawyers and everyone was very sweet, profound moment to see the Mexican congressman that had been on hunger strike also in the hearing room, to see people from Sierra Blanca, people from across the state that had been involved for years and our—like I said, our neighbors from Mexico and
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then, like—like again, the—the people had a vested int—vested interest in the project going through, got to see some of them and the expressions of disappointment and shock that this dump could be defeated. And so that was something that definitely stands out in my mind and, like I said, I agree with Chairman McBee, this is the largest and one of the—I wouldn’t say it’s the—the most important case, but he did. I would say it was the largest case that that agency has ever heard on environmental matters in Texas to this date yet, I’ll agree with him on that. The size and scope of that project regard—regarding a facility for the application, the size and scope, it’s just hard to imagine. This would have been a national dump, the—the compact which was passed and promoted by the—passed in congress, promoted by seventeen congressmen from Texas and the governor
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had a—a clause, still does, still a law, section 305, paragraph 6 which allows appointed compact commissioners, David, appointed by the governors of Maine, Vermont, and Texas that allows them to contract with any other state, person, regional body, or group of states for importation of waste into Texas without going back to the governor, without going back to our legislature, without going back to the congress, just—they can do it by themselves. This, with no volume cap, when Maine and Vermont is limited to ten percent of what Texas generates for thirty years. So I don’t see how allowing eight people, six from—there would be from Texas to determine the future of where there will be a national dump or just let anybody in including the Department of Energy to dump waste here is a right thing for Texas. And that bill still exists and that bill is still puts Texas communities at risk in a form of radioactive roulette to be targeted for a dump—a
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national dump. Until it’s changed, that still exists and it’s ongoing and will on go until that compact is rescinded and stopped. It ha—would have to be rescinded and stopped the same way it started. Our Texas legislature would have to introduce a bill to rescind the compact, Maine and Vermont would have to do the same and then the U.S. United States Congress would have to agree. It would have to do that—be done. I—I’ve already talked with congressman (?) who we’ve worked with in the past. He—he’s willing to do the Tex—State of Texas would have to start it. And, of course, the whole reason, and this goes back to what could happen in Texas or any other state, the whole process—I should say the whole guiding light, the law, is that United States Low Level Waste Policy Act and this all sounds boring but it’s not because this act is what’s causing a lot of people pain in—throughout the United States with these sitings. The act says that every state must manage its own low-level radioactive waste or enter into a compact to provide
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a common solution to dispose of waste for—for the—for the compact for several—for two or three states or more. It doesn’t say you have to build a dump and it certainly doesn’t say you have to compact, (?) either or and—and—you don’t—it doesn’t—it just says you have to manage your own waste. No one can force you to build a dump. The only that can force is their own state government. So the—the—the—the—Miss—Representative Bonea—and we’ve talked with him about this—this whole—the Low Level Waste Policy Act needs to be re-examined in United States Congress, it’s a total failure. There’s been ten compacts passed in the United States since 1983 when the—when the U.S. low-levels poli—U.S. low—United States Low Level Waste Policy Act
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was passed. There’s been ten compacts, Texas being the tenth. But there’s been not one dump ever built since 1980—I should say the 1980 Low Level Waste Policy Act. There’s been—not been one dump in twenty years ever built so the bill, even though you have ten compacts, no one’s really willing to build a dump cause nobody wants to be stuck with a national dump. This is a form of radioactive roulette and if one sta—why should Texas, this is the last thing, why should Texas be the first out of the whole United States to develop the first low-level radioactive waste dump in the nation? We will be the receptacle for all the waste because other states will say, why should we have to open up a dump, Texas will take it. This gets—this is a very political—hot—very hot political issue and no one wants it. So we’re still—the—the last thing is we are still under the gun—Texas communities—west Texas communities are under the gun because of this
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compact and like I told you before, David, there’s a bill being deba—being—that’s been introduced and is being heard today—and today—this day, September 28th in—in United St—in Texas—in the Texas senate—the senate natural resources by our own senator here, Senator Duncan and Mr. Chi—and Representative Chisum, the (?) that—that allows private disposal of radioactive waste, allows a dump to expanded, allows Department of Energy waste to be dumped here and—and—and states that the dump—the facility can only be placed in an area with less than I think twenty-five or thirty inches of rainfall. That’s all west Texas again and their—their—by doing that—by the rainfall requirement, they’re saying that it has to be west of the Pecos River is what they’re basically saying when they’re saying tw—less than twenty or twenty-five inches of rainfall. So it—nothing changes, it’s still the same and the last thing also is that Sierra Blanca was not saved, we didn’t talk much about sewage sludge but we have the largest sewage dump in the world here from New York City.
DT: Before we get into that…
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BA: I forgot about that.
DT: We talked about the politics and law and even the science of the nuclear waste dump but I think it might be worth talking about the things that are most immediate—intimate to you, sort of personal cause to doing this. I think we mentioned before that you’re not the Sierra Club, you’re not the Audubon Society, you’re not the Environmental Defense Fund, you’re one individual and I wonder if you could talk a little about how you managed to take this on and at what cost.
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BA: Sure. I’ll—I’ll tell you that but quickly before that I wanted to mention one thing that came—just popped in my mind. There’s a Washington Post reporter that came here in the hearings in 1996. There was a big public hearing in prep—that—that started off the contested case hearing process, another big public hearing at our school gym which hundreds of people attended. This Washington Porsh—Post reporter, Sue Ann Presley from Texas, she’s really nice and very easy to talk to, talked to her a long time, she went to the hearing and talk—she talked to the other side of course to do her story…
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BA: Sue Ann Presley bas—you know she talked to the other side and the other side I should say our county judge which I consider the other side, he was promoting the facility, the dump, Billy Love and others, maybe Rick Jacoby of the disposal authority and maybe some lobbyists that had—were at the hearing were telling them that I was, and I don’t know if they believe this, David, that I was being supported and got a lot of money from Green—got a lot of money from Greenpeace, that I had a lot of money coming in from Greenpeace. And this is how I could do all this and this is all outside—they try to make the thing this is all outsiders, you know. They had a problem because I lived here but they liked to make her think that Sierra Blanca wanted it and this is all outsiders that were trying to—to stop the project, you know, people that are butting in, you know, the tree huggers type of thing.
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BA: Carpetbaggers, yeah, well, you know, these are nuclear carpetbaggers that came from the northeast to come into our state is what it was, that’s what I call it, nuclear carpetbaggers, you know, from Maine and Vermont. And I didn’t name the reactors, Maine Yankee, Vermont Yankee, but it’s Yankee waste, you know. So Sue Ann Presley said, you know, some of your opponents like the county judge were saying you’re being financed by Greenpeace, is that true? And I says—and she was standing right there here in our store and I said, Ms. Pres—or Sue Ann let—let me show you something. And I led her through the store and we had a lot more stock in the store than then even, David. I said, look at this leaking roof, look at the little bit of stock on our shelves, and there was even more than then as she could see, yeah, it’s not as much as there should be even three years ago. And I said, this is coming out of our own pockets, this is a grass roots campaign if you want to call it that. This is coming from my mom’s pocket and from
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people that may donate a little bit of money to us. Yes, we take donations, but I can tell you Greenpeace isn’t one of them and they’re not giving me any millions or thousands of dollars. But let me tell you something, if Greenpeace would give me thousands of dollars or even one dollar, I’d take it. I told her I would almost take money from the devil if it would stop this dump, you know, I don’t care who it is, you know. So she got a big laugh out of that and did a very good write up, you know, that I was very knowledgeable and could talk about tridium and scientific issues and the pros and cons of the, you know, the legalities of—of—of, you know, on any level, you know, I wasn’t trying to mislead her. I think that’s real important to other activists and people that want to be involved and make a difference, is to always remain credible, don’t overstate the truth, don’t understate
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the truth, just tell the truth, it’s strong enough by itself and always tell the truth, that way you develop a relationship where people will trust you, the public, and the media will trust you and they won’t have to be questioning you and looking up to if—if you’re—if you’re—if you’re just blowing smoke or—or not really telling the truth. And that can come back to—to bite you so we were always real—real focused on making sure that—that—that—that the truth be told in its entirety but not overstating it and not exaggerating.
DT: I guess your accuracy and your knowledge about the issue really helped you but I guess there’s also the credibility that when she came in the store and she saw the sacrifices you’d been making that there was a real commitment there.
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BA: Yeah. It’s—like I said and I do want to say this for anyone hearing this is that I don’t consider myself a hero, I don’t, you know, we’ve been called that, I’ve gotten award, you know, awards and plaques and all this. But this wasn’t about Bill Addington, this was about the people and it took real, you know, I did a lot of work, yes, but I consider this my—I—I don’t consider myself a hero but I consider myself responsible. And I will—I will—that’s why I did what I did and—and it took thousands of people in two countries to stop this dump, to put enough pressure—political pressure on our governor. But I’m going to tell you one thing, David, it didn’t happen by accident. There was a conser—consorted—there was a plan—there was a very detailed plan and—and the strategies we used were very well thought out and very creative. We had to be
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creative. We didn’t have much money. The state out-spent us about a thousand to one. They spent sixty-eight million dollars trying to force the dump on Sierra Blanca. My mom—my mom and I—my mom and I—my mother and I spent about a quarter of a million and our legal defense fund spent about another hundred and fifty thousand, you know, plus a lot of work, we don’t get paid for our work, that’s eight years of my time—my life went into this. So the story needs to be told and—really and—and I appreciate everything that—that you’ve done to make sure it is told for future generations of Texans. I—I think this is a very super important project and it reaches out into the future and it—it—it makes me feel good to know that my words will someday be heard by—by others in the near future and people that aren’t maybe not even born yet because, you know, the—the—the story of Sierra Blanca is—is not about—it’s not an ego thing with
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me, believe me, but it needs to be told in it’s entirety. And that’s why I—I’ve been approached to write a book and we’ve actually been approached for a movie which—which has not happened because I refused to do it for twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars and I refused to not have any creative control over the issue. Showtime was going to—was committed to do the story. I—the producer was disappointed with me for not signing the contract and of course now they’re not interested because I wouldn’t back off from that but I—I—I have an agent and I want to tell the story in the right way. It’s not—it’s not about me or making enough money, it’s not it, but it’s about at least having—I know the story would have to be fictionalized in a movie—in a—in a film—a feature film, it
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would have to be fictionalized a little bit, but I am wanting to have some—a little bit of creative control and they were going to hire me as a consultant but I—I’m just going to wait to do the—to—to actually finish a book. And then the book can hopefully be used as a screen play because the story is so important, it can show others, I believe, since we don’t win that often, the people that are fighting these projects—environmental projects—negative environmental projects. They need to know that we can win if we stick together and work and—and the basic things is—basic thing is just like I’ve told the—the new groups that have sprouted off, I’ve watched the birth of several environmental groups, is that you have—and when you start an environmental group or any group, when you’re working together for—for a common cause, you have to have respect for each other and trust for each other. If you don’t have respect and trust, just a
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few people even, I mean just three or four people could do so much if you just have that basic respect and trust and not let egos get in your way. If you have love—the love on top of that, love for yours—each other and love for the earth, your—your power’s magnified a thousand times and your—and people do not realize the power they have, even in small groups, if they will just remember what they have by trusting and respecting each other and loving each other. You can do—you can move mountains and we—I think we proved—we proved that with Sierra Blanca. We—we were never expected to win. I cannot tell you the times that I’ve been laughed at, ridiculed by reporters, by—by congressmen, by state officials, saying that we can’t stop it, it’s a done deal. Being—I’ve been—I’ve been called Don Quixote, tilting at win—windmills and
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they—they—they like to give out the id—the impression this creates powerlessness and helplessness among the people, further disenfranchising them, that—it—it—it—that you can’t stop these types of things, the government’s all powerful, they’re the government and they dictate to us, the other way around, we’re supposed to be telling them what to do as our public officials, we’ve forgotten that but we’ve let that happen. You know, the—the people forget that so.
DW: Can the government, can they threaten you, can they decide surprisingly that you’re going to be audited, can they decide to have police just search your things for no reason at all?
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BA: Yes they can.
DW: Okay so but for the activist in the crowd, you know because it does paint a very rosy picture (?) not necessarily (?)
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BA: Yeah sure, and—and you’re—and you’re right, David, you’re—you’re right, both of y’all are right and I can testify to that. Because of my activism we’ve had an arson of our lumber yard. It was an arson and I didn’t call it—I mean—I—we knew it was an arson but the fire marshal said it was an arson, he found combustibles used, and it was a—a—it was a big fire and it was meant to intimidate us. I’ve been shot at in my car on a state highway just taking photos of Merco off the side of the road and of a ranch nearby. We’ve had death threats on my telephone, I’ve had my phone tapped, we found bugging equipment on the roof of the store. I’ve had my wife threatened, my wife was threatened and said that they’re going to get me if I don’t back out and that lumb—your lumber yard was first, they’re going to burn the store down next. Sure, there’s lots of intimidations that can happen. But if the people stick together and work together, you know, this—
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and—and—and support each other, they will go away. They saw that I wasn’t going to go away just because our lumberyard burned down, the warning wasn’t strong enough. It just made me more determined. And I will tell you this also because it—it—it’s emotional to me, it drains me, but it’s important for your project, for people in the future to hear this. It does come at a high cost but it doesn’t have to be that way if we’d all work together. There doesn’t have to be people screaming out in the wilderness by themselves for a long time to get others to listen if we’d all do it from the beginning. I lost my wife and family because of this. My wife—I had a very beautiful wife and son we were adopting and we were going to move to the river, to the farm and my other life and she in nineteen ninety—in—January 1st 1994, she told me, she said, I love you Bill but I cannot take this anymore. You said it was going to be over soon and we thought it would be and it wasn’t. And I said—I could not promise her when this radioactive waste project would be stopped or a decision one way or the other. And she said, well Bill I love you and—but I’m going to leave. I’m taking our son because I can’t take this anymore, this isn’t a life. She was only twenty-four years old, you know, and she said I
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see you more on television than at home and I—I love you but I’m leaving. And she did and, you know, it’s hard. I have—I—I don’t want to dismiss it and paint a rosy picture that we can all do these things together and it’s just easy. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s our responsibility to act on this as human beings. And, I thought I was doing this for my wife and son, you know, protecting them. To me what they wanted to do here, David, the state of Texas and the authority is no different than if someone came into my house, some criminals waving guns, threatening my family. It’s no different to me, it’s just more insidious what this—what, you know, what happens, this is a medical issue, what happens when a radionucleide that mimics a—a mineral like calcium, goes in your body and gives you bone cancer? What happens—that’s what—and that is why, you know, that is why we do what we do. We—it’s a medical issue, it’s a health and safety issue.
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It’s not just about being environmentalist and protecting the trees and the land. It’s about the protection of life and it’s about radioactive waste issue, it’s about the protection of our genetic code, our—the book of life, you know. Radioactive materials disrupt the genetic code, our chromosomes which it’s been described as like when—when these radioactive elements and contaminants invade our body, it’s like setting—it’s like a mad man going through a library throwing books everywhere. That’s what it does to our chromosomes, our genes. And we certainly don’t want our children suffering birth defects—defects, lowered immune systems, cancer, bone disease. I was told and I did it, go off on these tangents, a lady asked me from Maine, she’s a doctor that was a legislator
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that was opposing the compact. She said, Bill, if you thought that if you could save one baby’s life by cutting your hair, would you cut your hair? I said, well certainly. Then she said, well cut your hair. And the next day I cut my hair. Yeah, it grew back but I did cut my hair because, you know, people think, you know, they—they—they—they want—they believe that—they judge you by the way you look. And I was a leader and I had—and I wanted people to respect me and to listen to me. So I, you know, not that it—it shouldn’t matter, but it does, so I cut my hair. But—I went off on this long tangent but I would say that—also that having a—a—people working together, that’s where I was
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going, bear with me. By having people working together we—we can do a lot and it shouldn’t—it won’t, you know, if they s—people—if the other side sees the—I should say the, you know, believe it or not I—I call this—I call them the forces of darkness, you know. There’s good and bad in the world and the love of money can do some real strange thing and corrupt some really nice people but the…
[End Reel #2137]
DT: Well maybe we could wrap this up with just a few more remarks about working together which is an important part…
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BA: Yeah, I’ll talk about working together but I want to also say that, again I feel compelled to tell you, all the stuff that happened, I felt to me, you know, it’s not just about me, it happens to a lot of us, but it almost makes you feel like—it made me feel like guilty for feeling sorry for myself. Because, you know, you see other people with worse problems than you and you say you feel like you don’t have the right to feel sorry for your lot in life or what you’ve been dealt. I mean, I lost my family, I—I loved her more than life itself, you know, my son, they took him away. The very thing I thought I was fighting for was gone. I cried a river of tears for years over that and over the loss. And believe me, we know about loss. So what did it do? It made me more committed
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and I did—dove further into the work and my obsessive-compulsive dysfunction overtook me. It’s not something I’d advise for anybody. It’s—it’s unhealthy, it’s not balanced, it’s good to have a balance in your life, you’re actually more efficient when you’re balanced, but who can have afford to have a palace, David, when you—when you have this breathing down your neck and there’s all these deadlines and—and milestones coming up that could impact the—what’s going to happen in the future, whether this facility got built or not. It—it’s an—it’s a—it’s a—it’s a—I can only describe it as an obsession. But what a mag—magnificent obsession to be privileged to defend life. It’s a privilege to me to work with all these people, to meet all these beautiful fine people, people that have welcomed me in their homes in Maine and Vermont, in Mexico, people I don’t even know, they welcome me in their homes and help me. There’s been people that have sent us quarters, dimes, and nickels taped to a card, you know. Foundations would never support us, not very many of them, they never gave us much, they didn’t believe in us, maybe because we were a legal defense fund, I don’t know. But, I mean,
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when we were fighting the dump, the foundations would generally, very few of them, wouldn’t give us money. Case in point, the Ben and Jerry Foundation from Vermont, we applied to them, Aaron applied to them for a grant. You’d think they’d wa—being the social progressives they are, that they would donate part of the their tax deductible fortune from their ice-cream business and—through their foundation to help us in Sierra Blanca. After all, the waste was coming from Maine and Vermont. Guess what they told us? We’re denying your grant proposal because y’all don’t have a solution. Well excuse me, we didn’t start the problem of the nuclear reactors, we don’t claim to have a solution to isolate the most—some of the most dangerous materials mankind’s ever created, you
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know. What we do know is it should not be buried in the ground. It should be isolated from the environment for their hazardous life and by dumping it is about the worst place—the worst way to be doing it, whether it be in Maine or in Sierra Blanca, Texas. So foundations wouldn’t su—support us very much. We had a few, Von Foundation, there’s several other foundations that gave us money, Genevieve Von also gave us a lot of in-kind help. She’s—without her, I mean we did a lot of—she gave us in-kind help and money, about twenty-five thousand dollars. And—but, you know, the majority of the money we raised were from people, like I said, anywhere from pennies and dimes taped to a card sent in all the way to thousands of dollars from, you know, from each—from individuals and any monies in be—between. Like I said, we raised over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars and, of course, Bonnie Raitt, we had a concert with Bonnie Raitt
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and her friends. And we cleared about thirty-five thousand dollars, that helped. You need money for these types of things. Of course, we never got paid for any of our work. We didn’t expect to be paid, but it would really would be nice to at least have your expenses paid so you don’t have to be taking money out and doing free work. But of course, we weren’t doing it for money, of course, we were doing it because we believed in it and, again, that gave us an edge. The other side, David, the proponents of the facility, the forces of darkness if you will, they don’t have the same commitment because they’re paid to do what they do. They just look at it as like a job to make more money.
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We’re committed because it’s in our heart and soul, it’s a part of us. The land’s a part of us and to move us from here, to move me from here would be like to pulling a tree or a bush up from its roots and trying to transplant it. It will usually die, you just can’t do that, you have—you can’t just, you know, we’re—we’re deeply rooted here and we don’t want to leave, this is our home. And we’ll continue to protect this land from other cities, from other states, and from other corporations that we won’t allow—just like my sign says outside that I painted, we won’t allow companies to contaminate us and opportunistically take from us our home, we won’t allow that. We’ll do everything we can and I know I’ve gone on a lot but, it’s like I said, we had plan A through Z to stop this dump. If the—if the hearings examiners had said yes for the dump and the TNRCC commissioners had said yes, we had other plans, we had anoth—other strategies, plan A, B, C, D. Legal, legislative, political, and yes we would even go to direct action. I—I had
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plans with other friends that could have impacted my health and safety or my—maybe my legal status and I was very committed to do that in defense of life. And I felt I had every right under the constitution of the United States to stand up against the government that would oppress us. I feel I have the legal standing to do that in my heart and soul and the moral standing to stand up against them, not to cause any violence to hurt anybody but definitely to do direct action that could potentially be illegal under our laws, you know, when they’re trying to force them on us so. Like I said, this—this—the defeat of this—this—I want people to know that the defeat of this dump at Sierra Blanca, Texas, this national dump, was no accident. It was not merely because Bush wanted votes from the Mex—from the Mexican people in the United States, that helped and yes it pushed us
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over the edge, but this was an eight year campaign, we worked—I worked on a daily basis. I slept—we—some of us slept, drank, ate, and breathed this issue for eight years. It was—I—the first thing I—the last thing I thought about when I went to sleep was this and the first thing I woke up in the morning was this issue and yeah, it cost me my family but this is—was my life for eight years. And they took a part of my life, but I don’t regret it because, like I said, I met some very beautiful people. I had some very beautiful experiences. I’ve learned a lot, I—I mean, you—you never—when you’re—when you’re—when you’re in, how would I say it? When I was growing up, and I don’t wa—you can stop me anytime, don’t feel free, but when I was growing up I was raised to believe in school that the democratic system is representative of the people and that we have a system where our legislators do what the people want and this is a democracy. It was a rude awakening to see, and to believe me, I had never been to Austin, Washington, or Mexico City before all this happened in 1991. It’s a rude awakening to see how our
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system actually is, but we’ve let that happen. We’ve let the corporations and special interest take our government from us because we’re not involved, David. I learned this, we’re not involved in our government, we’re not involved in our system. We ma—some of us may vote, a few of us, but most of us don’t and then we don’t hold accountable the very instruments we created. Part of our government, and part of our—our job, our responsibility isn’t just voting, it’s holding—holding—holding accountable our representatives and controlling the instruments we create. So by failing to do that, we’ve let these corporations and industry and it’s be—being debated right now in congress about special influences and campaign finance reform and all that. We’ve let that happen and this is why they’re out of control, this is why bad things happen to good people
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because we’ve let this happen. And I only hope that we can all start getting involved in our government and in our locally, regionally, statewide, and nationally, because if we don’t, it’s going to come back to bite us just like it did in Sierra Blanca where some of us weren’t involved in our local government. Now we are involved in our local government and we are involved in policy and we do care and, like I said before, or I was trying to say, David, it’s hard to relate to others when you haven’t gone through it yourself. But once you’ve gone through it and once you’ve experienced it, wha—what evil can happen and what things can happen, you feel—you can relate to others whether it’s happening across the road, across the state or across the world, you can relate. Because in the end,
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and it may sound corny but I believe this, we are one earth, we are one water, and we’re—we’re—and—and we’re one soul, we’re just one, you know. It all goes to the same place and, you know, that’s an Indian belief, we’re—we’re one air, one water, and one earth, and that’s what we believe. It’s—it’s just a—I don’t blame people for feeling disconnected but we have to get past that. And if we don’t experience some of the things that we’ve experienced in Sierra Blanca and some—and have—don’t have to go through all this, we need to realize that we’re all in this together and we need to support others. If we could all do that and all—and all work together, these things don’t have to be
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happening, and they won’t be happening once the government, I believe, sees that—that there—the people aren’t going to take this, you know. And it may say ide—idealic and—and pie in the sky, but I think it’s very doable. Our country was founded in this way. There’s millions of us here now, but it was more representative and there were people more involved because we forget how many people have died defending our country and defending freedom and—and—and trying to protect life. There’s a lot of people that have died doing this. And so I take that as a sacred responsibility with our forefathers and with people have lived here for many, many, many generations have done, you know, and I appreciate it. And I’m—I’m willing to defend them and defend what their—their—what they’ve done and not forget what they’ve done because I wouldn’t be here without all their work is what I believe.
DT: I think you’ve helped us understand and relate a lot to what you’ve done and how it’s connected other places. Let’s break now and…
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DT: Bill, we’re out I guess about a mile or two west of Sierra Blanca and looking out at the Sierra Blanca Mountain that your town is named for and I was wondering what you could tell us about the train cars we see and what might be going on.
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BA: Sure, this is the railroad spur for Merco Joint Ventures, the s—sludge dump operation. It’s the largest in the world, eighty-one thousand acres, they’re spreading up to four hundred and fifty tons of de-watered sewage sludge cake a day from the fifteen treatment plants in New York City. This material isn’t legally allowed to be spread or landfilled in New York State but yet our Texas regulators and leaders have seen fit to—to fertilize us and create the largest sludge dump in the world. This was brought in without a pubic hearing, a permit or any notice to anyone in Sierra Blanca or in Hudspeth County. Today’s a real dusty day and windy, it’s—being it is March, but this mountain behind us is very beautiful, unusual characteristic mount—mountain, the Sierra Blanca Mountain was named by a Spanish explorer, I think Coronado, that came through here back when before Sierra Blanca existed and named it because of the—of the white poppies growing
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all over it. It—it wasn’t because of snow, but it was the white poppies, Sierra Blanca, white mountain. And they’re spreading sludge over eighty-one thousand acres along the—all along northeast and northwest of Sierra Blanca around the mountain. They don’t spread it on the mountain, they’re spreading it on the surface, this is surface disposal and they’re spreading it now at ten dry tons per acre per year, it used to be about eight. Like I said, this material isn’t legally allowed to be spread or even landfilled in New York State because of—it does not—it has too much heavy metals like copper, lead, and sometimes cadmium. What else can I tell you? This is a—this is a illegal hauling dump operation masquerading as a beneficially used…
DT: Could you continue?
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BA: Sure. Like I said, this is a illegal hauling dump operation masquerading as an environmentally beneficial project and it’s only a masquerade. They—the only thing that protects Sierra Blanca, they’re—they’ve used—they have spread it up almost up to the town boundaries with sewage sludge but they’re mainly spreading it on about forty thousand acres, what they call the ten-mile site on the other side of this mesa over here that you—you—I don’t know if you can see, but there’s a mesa here. That mesa is the only thing that protects Sierra Blanca from the stench—the stench—the sewage stench is a mixture of a fecal odor and chemical odors, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia which it—the—the smell—the stench is unde—indescribable. If you’ve ever smelled—like I told
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you, if you’ve ever smelled a dairy or a feed lot, this stuff smells—that stuff—that smells good, the dairy or feed lot to the side of the sewage sludge and what those—the sewage sludge—what—what—what the out-gassing of these bioaerosols, they call it, which is—they call it—I guess the official is volatilization of bioaerosols when the gases, vapors, and fumes emit out of this sewage—sewage sludge cake when it gets wet. There’s vapors, gases and—and—and it actually waves through town when the wind’s right and stinks to high heaven, people want to leave. This—this stench generally happens when it’s cool, not when it’s hot, when the weather conditions are right and after a rain. In the early mornings or late afternoons when people are doing their barbecuing, it can come through town during the spring and summer mainly, not—that’s when the stenches happen and they are sporadic ‘cau—‘cause the wind direction is—it’s all critical. And
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doctors tell us that it’s not only—that it’s—that it’s a health hazard that it—basically it could be—they believe that it would be when you’re smelling it that strong, nailing our immune—it could be, you know, repeated exposures nailing our immune systems. Those at risk of—of immunocomp—compromization by this bioaerosols or the old that have failing immune systems, the young that have developing immune systems and the sick that have compromised immune systems. And they’re the ones that are most at risk from catching anything after their lume—their—their immune systems are—are—are—are nailed. So there’s been absolutely no testing by the State of Texas for these—the air—the—from the air, from the chemical odors. They do not—they have not done it—performed any sludge testing itself on what the constituents of the sludge is that are
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coming to this so-called sludge ranch in about six years, they haven’t done any testing. So it’s basically the same thing in Mexico where it’s self-regulation by the company itself, they test it and that’s about it and tell the Texas National Resource Conservation Commission what’s happening.
DT: Can you tell us about your work to try to get more oversights for the dump or to stop it?
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BA: Well we’ve tried to—in the legislature—the Texas legislature we’ve tried to get sensible laws that won’t do us any good here but to require a permit for this type of activity. And man—many other states including Oklahoma where these—this same project was stopped—Merco was stopped in Oklahoma in five towns, they have—it requires a permit. If we had a permit here, we—we probably could have stopped this or at least had some input or at least been able to have a voice. This way, they just ho—hosted this upon us, like I said, without any notice to our county, without any permit, or any public hearing and—and that by do—by doing that, they created the largest sludge dump in the world. So, what was your original question.
DT: That’s good. Could you talk also about some of the reactions of Merco to your work to try to slow down or limit their actions?
BA: Well, okay, we believe that in 1994, we had an ar—well we had an arson of our lumber yard, we believe it was caused by direct result of our activity and actions against Merco Joint Ventures and maybe the radioactive waste dump. We believe it was more tied to Merco. We never said that Merco burnt down our lumber yard or ordered it burnt down, but we said because of our activ—of our work to stop them, or—or the arson happened, and, of course, we were sued for saying that—I was sued in United States Federal District Court in Pecos alleging business disparagement, slander, and liable. And I was sued along with Sony Tristar, Merco—I mean Sony Tristar, Hugh Koffman, of the—one of the good guys at the EPA, and Tristar Television. So the judge—the judge—the—the jury gave them only one dollar in actual damages and four hundred and fifty
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thousand dollars in punitive from Mr. Koffman and four and a half million dollars in punitive from Sony Tristar. However, the most conservative court in the country, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, unanimously overturned that decision and told Sony Tristar and Mr. Koffman they didn’t owe him a penny and that in this—and that—that it was all overturned because in this country, business disparagement should not be used to stifle people’s reasonable beliefs and opinions. And the first amendment still exists in this country for peo—for citizens to be able to speak out against whatever opinion they have on what’s right or wrong and that that was—that’s not what defamation law was intended for and that fair story, a balanced story that Merco wanted would be one that favored sewage sludge spreading and they shouldn’t be surprised being in the
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controversial business of sludge spreading that people would criticize them. Regarding my—my—my comment that many people in town know why the arson happened, it’s because of our speaking out against the sludge dump, when they panned over the—with a camera over the burnt out lumber yard, the—the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the most conservative court in the country I might add, stated that—that I had every reason to believe in this contentious debate about sewage sludge that someone might burn down my lumber yard because of our outspoken opinions, I had every right to believe and say that and I never said that Merco or anyone having to do with Merco burnt down our lumber yard which they say I implied. So in any case, yes, that’s happened, we’ve been sued for—that was a sixty million dollar lawsuit, they were suing us for sixty million. I
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don’t even—of course, I don’t even have one million, but they said they could get some type of partial judgment for—from me and they—they wanted me to donate money into this—this—this front group which I never would do in exchange for saying I lied and I’m was sorry which I never would do, I’m not sorry for telling the truth.
DT: What sort of lesson have you drawn from your experience with the sludge ranch?
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BA: Say that again?
DT: What sort of lesson have you drawn that you might tell other people from the sludge ranch and your experience here?
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BA: Well in any proposed project I would encourage and—and—and advise anybody to watch what’s happening on any registrations or permits, not just permits in their county—you can get on a list at the TNRCC for your county and they will send you any upcoming applications having to do with your county or you can do it by company even. I would urge you to—urge them to do it on their—on their own county and—and—and watch because especially in these rural counties, and yeah sometimes in their not so rural ones in a poor disenfranchised area, they want to do projects that can hurt your health. So I would encourage you—actually like I said before, to get more involved in every way, especially in your local government, have some local control. If we had—had—exercised local control this project would have never existed. If our county commissioners had been united, even after they got their registration we could have stopped them. However some of our—our commissioners and county judge favored the project and did everything they could to help them stay.
DT: Is there anything you’d like to add about how sometimes money inclines people do things that maybe aren’t in favor of the environment?
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BA: Right, well obviously the reason these things happen are because of money. This is—this company here for example, Merco Joint Ventures from New York City which by the way, we have proven and it’s been published in the New York Times, I’m not afraid to say it, or have close ties and associations with the Lacasey crime family in New York City. But, what was the question again?
DT: I was wondering if you could talk about the link between money and people’s…
0:26:18 – 2138
BA: Oh the money, yeah—yeah, regarding money, yeah, I’m sorry, too much information I guess. Money is the reason these projects are here and, of course they—the—the companies or the industries that try to put these facilities in communities know that—that people basically can be greedy, and that greed can be a factor and can be bought off really basically like in the case of Sierra Blanca here for chump change in—in—in bribes, legal and illegal bribes. These bribes have come down all the way to our state government unfortunately into our local government and—and I’m—I’ve been told even in the federal government with the United States senators. So money plays a big part in influence peddling and money played a big part—part on how they got here. We
0:27:16 – 2138
know they got the contract to spread sludge, or to bring it to Sierra Blanca from—from New York City using influence peddling—illegal influence peddling, it’s been well documented and, of course, like I said, they’ll try to buy off the decision makers, the officials in the local government and appeal to their greed by—all in the name of economic development and get—and offer these people money. And, of course, then these people generally would be opposing these projects will favor them because they think they are personally going to make some money off of it in the form of a contr—a gravel contract or some business or an out—an out—outright bribe, some money under the table.
DT: Do you have any suggestions on how to take money out of environmental decisions or do you think greed is just a part of life?
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BA: Well greed’s going to always be a part of life, that’s definitely so. However I really believe that—that—well, for these—these are huge decisions that sometimes are made for po—political favors or orders by higher ups and so I guess the state of Texas should really, well in the case of sewage sludge, it should be permitted and there’s—I don’t know—I really know how to answer that to be honest with you. What was the question again?
DT: How money can be taken out of being a factor in some of these environmental decisions.
0:28:55 – 2138
BA: Yeah you did say that. I guess campaign finance reform, it all goes back to the money, when they’re donating money to, you know, these companies to the officials that—like the governor and the legislature and certain key officials in the Senate Natural Resources Committee that are members of it and—and certain representatives that are members of the house environmental regulations committee. There should—the—the conflict of interest there, you know, basically they’ll donate money to them in the form of a legal bribe to their campaign committee and then the—these legislators will pull some strings and get the permit or, in this case, the registration approved. And so that’s the
0:29:40 – 2138
way it works. The—they’re very good about spreading legal and illegal money around and they’ve got very deep pockets to do so and they basically bought their way into Texas, this company Merco. And there’s something wrong—and there’s something rotten in Austin, Texas when these types of activities are allowed to happen, it is a—it is a pathetic disgrace that Texas would allow New York City sludge that isn’t even be allowed to be spread or even landfilled, spread for beneficial use or landfilled, it’s banned from being done so in New York City when—and then—but yet Texas will allow this to be spread on an area the size of El Paso and Watus, eighty-one thousand acres is the registration. It is a pathetic disgrace that our officials, our leaders, would allow this. This just proves what we’ve said all along that we are the stepchild of Texas, that Austin and east Texas does—most the decision makers do not care about us and see us as a part of Mexico probably, you know. So this is just more of the same of, we’re not part of Texas.
DW: Since we’re here with the train maybe you could explain for the people that are wondering why we’re looking at a train and you talk about spreading they may expect to see bulldozers or something so maybe explain so they might have an idea.
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BA: Yeah, sure—sure. Well we see here these sludge cars come in by rail three times a week with a work train from El Paso, Texas. The sludge train doesn’t come directly from—through Sierra Blanca, it goes to El Paso and is stored there and it comes three times a week from El Paso. These containers hold twenty-five cubic yards each of sewage sludge cake from New York City which is de-watered sewage sludge. It has the consistency of about like Copenhagen or Skoal, it’s a very sticky mess—a sticky, gooey mess that you, you know. So they actually take this out of the—these—these containers you see behind me. They will fit on the back of a converted cement mixer diesel truck which they load with a—an inverted forklift on—on top of it and take each one of these out to the field which is the—the high desert grade—range land in behind in the application area they call it and they’ll dump it on the ground, pick it up with a front end
0:32:16 – 2138
loader after they dump the sewage sludge in a big pile and then dump it into the back of a manure spreader that’s pulled by a tractor. Then this manure spreader flings this sewage sludge about thirty feet in the air and it plops all over the ground. It’s applied at a rate, what they say of ten dry tons per acre per year, ten tons of sewage sludge per acre every year and they just keep applying on top of that. It used to be about three dry tons per acre per year. Also by the way, cattle—they have cattle out here. These cattle go onto the
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open market and these cattle have definitely eaten some of the sewage sludge that lays close to the ground, that falls in the plants. They’ve eaten sludge, they’ve eaten plants that are—that are—potentially have taken up contaminants in the sludge and, of course, they—these cattle are bioaccumulators that—that—that concentrate toxins which we then eat. So that’s something to think about when you’re eating your hamburgers, this—you could be eating a—a cow that came from this sludge ranch here or you could be drinking orange juice from Florida where they spread sewage sludge pellets from New York City on the orange groves, you could be drinking orange juice.
DT: Is this sewage sludge biodegradable?
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BA: No. This sewage sludge cake…
DT: Will (?) eat it?
0:33:31 – 2138
BA: Will what?
0:33:33 – 2138
BA: Well this—this—this sewage sludge here is not biodegrad—the reason it cannot biodegrade, it has too mu—it has excessive levels of—mainly it’s hazard—it’s—it’s a toxic soup of chemicals, metals, bad pesticides and a lot of oil and grease. Like I said, there’s—before, there’s millions of pounds of oil and grease gets spread out here every year, millions—hundreds of millions of pounds every year get dumped. Yet the state of Texas tells us, which is rightfully not to dump a quart of oil in the ground but yet there’s millions of pounds of hydrocarbons, oil and grease get spread out here every year. And that—oil and grease which washes off the city streets in New York City and is illegally dumped in the storm sewers—drains is concentrated in this sludge. There’s a lot of oil and grease in this sludge.
DT: Let me ask you one last question if you don’t mind.
0:34:30 – 2138
DT: There’s a lot of injustices that have been done to this community and disgrace this land, can you tell me maybe a place near here, a natural spot that you like, love perhaps, that makes it worth caring for these places and this community?
0:34:51 – 2138
BA: Well I like all the land and I love it all about equally, it’s all part of the same—there are special places that I go to relax and meditate and remind myself why I’m doing this but, this—the other day I climbed the top of the Sierra Blanca Mountain behind us and it’s a very special place with it—still, even with sludge around it, with a lot of different types of animals living on it, plants, lizards, snakes, all kinds of—and, of course, the Eagle Mountains where they wanted to put the—over there where they wanted to put the—although you can’t see it from here the dust, but we’ll be going out there in a little bit. But that area, the Eagle Mountains on the top of that—I go—I go backpacking, hiking into that area and it’s another world of—of—of only pure, pristine nature with elk, falcons, javelina, snakes, all kinds of different animals that you don’t see in the lower desert down here. So that—that’s a special place that I go, the—the top of the Eagle Mountains.
DT: Is there anything you’d like to add, a message to those who might see this?
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BA: Well a message to those that might see this in the future? I just want everyone that might see this in the future from near future and into the deep future to know that—that there are people out here that try, and I’m not—I’m just one of them. There’s many thousands of people that care and that try and we just need more of them to make a difference and we hope that you will join us, and anyone seeing this, to defend the earth. This earth is—is—this earth has—has sustained us for millennia and yet the thanks that we’ve—we’re doing to it is to—to slowly destroy the nature on the surface of the earth, by doing so we’re going to be killing off ourselves and the earth won’t die, it’ll recover. So we just hope that—that—I just appeal to anyone seeing this to, on whatever level you can, get involved for your children and do whatever you can and that way there won’t have to be a few people trying to kill themselves, screaming out in the wilderness trying to make a difference.
DT: Well thank you very much.
[End Reel #2138]
[End of interview with Bill Addington]