Maine has since pulled out of a deal with Texas to dump low-level radiation in that state.

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Vermont has little choice but to pay Texas $12.5 million to develop a low-level radioactive waste dump, the attorney general’s office said.

But some lawmakers want Gov. James Douglas to re-negotiate the deal.

The Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee voted Friday to advise Douglas to see if he can persuade Texas to let Vermont withhold the money until Texas actually has a site permitted.

“The administration believes that we are contractually required to make the payment under the terms of the agreement,” said Jason Gibbs, Douglas’ press secretary. “However, we will make the inquiries the joint fiscal committee recommended. We’ll ask, but we know we have to pay.”

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch, D-Windsor, the committee’s chairman, questioned whether the first of two payments should be sent when Texas has been unable to find an acceptable site for the waste dump and won’t have to give the money back if it can’t.

The questions about whether Vermont should stick with its Texas deal were raised last month by State Auditor Elizabeth Ready, who said several conditions of the multistate agreement had changed and asked whether the state should re-evaluate its participation.

Vermont joined the multistate compact with Maine and Texas in 1993. Congress approved the plan for Maine and Vermont to ship their low-level waste – contaminated equipment and clothing from nuclear power plants and a small amount of radioactive medical waste – to Texas in 1998.

The deal was seen as mutually beneficial because Texas could deny other states access to their dump in exchange for taking waste from two small states that produced little waste of their own.

However, Maine pulled out of agreement last year because the state shut down its only reactor, Maine Yankee, in 1998 and found other places to put its waste.

A new law passed in Texas this year sets up a process for locating a new site, including by private developers, and demands the first $12.5 million no later than Nov. 1.

Vermont Assistant Attorney General William Rice said Texas could sue or throw Vermont out of the compact if it failed to pay.

That point wasn’t lost on Senate Minority Leader John Bloomer, R-Rutland.

“If you back out of Texas, you’d better have another plan,” he told Welch and other Democrats who were questioning the deal Friday.

Bloomer ultimately agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to ask Texas if they’d let Vermont hold off on the payment until the site was licensed.

Afterward, Ready said she still had reservations about the deal.

“My whole sense of this is Vermont is pouring this money down a rat hole, and it’s a nasty nuclear rat hole,” she said. “I hope I’m wrong about this, and they’re right.”

AP-ES-10-04-03 1220EDT

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