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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher March 13, 2020

Sanders backed a waste-dump plan in Texas that didn’t happen

If Your Time is short


  • Sanders co-sponsored legislation in the late 1990s to allow dumping of low-level nuclear waste from Vermont at a site in Texas that was expected to be Sierra Blanca, a low-income, largely Latino community near the Mexico border.

  • Congress approved the bill. But Texas authorities ultimately rejected the plan and chose another location, without any congressional approval, so none of the waste was dumped in Sierra Blanca.

A new video ad from a dark-money group reprises a years-old attack on Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., about one attempt to dispose of his state’s nuclear waste.

The 15-second ad, which is being shared on Facebook, opens with a silent clip of Sanders speaking. A female narrator and words on the screen make this claim against the Democratic presidential candidate:

"Sen. Bernie Sanders led the effort to dump Vermont's nuclear waste on a poor Latino community in Texas."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The claim accurately describes Sanders’ role in leading the legislative effort. But it gives the false impression that the waste was dumped in the community.

The group and its claim

The ad is from United We Succeed, whose website describes its opposition to Sanders and contains more details about the claim we’re checking. United We Succeed calls itself a partner of the Big Tent Project Fund, which Politico described as a Democratic dark-money group aimed at boosting moderates and bashing Sanders. Dark-money groups are political nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors.

United We Succeed did not respond to our requests for information.

We reported on a similar claim during Sanders’ 2016 run for the Democratic nomination, finding:

  • In 1998, the House approved a compact struck between Texas, Vermont and Maine that would allow Vermont and Maine to dump low-level nuclear waste in Texas. Sanders co-sponsored the bill and actively ushered it through Congress.

    Featured Fact-check

  • It was widely expected the site would be in Sierra Blanca, a community about 16 miles from the Mexico border. At the time, the community was about two-thirds Latino, and its residents had an average annual income of $8,000, according to an article in the Bangor (Maine) Daily News.

  • The low-level nuclear waste was to include "items such as scrap metal and worker’s gloves … as well as medical gloves used in radiation treatments at hospitals," according to the Bangor Daily News. 

Sanders’ campaign pointed out that Sierra Blanca was not specified as the site in the federal legislation, and that the legislation had overwhelming support of the legislatures, governors and voters in Texas, Maine and Vermont. 

But it’s clear Sanders did help lead legislation that won approval in Congress.

In reviewing the issue in 2016, when it was raised during Sanders’ first presidential run, Texas Monthly concluded that "it’s fair to characterize Sanders’ support for the project as driven largely by a desire to see a Vermont problem resolved far from his own backyard."

Authorities in Texas ultimately rejected Sierra Blanca as the site because of safety concerns over its proximity to a geologic fault line. No nuclear waste was dumped there.

In 2012, a site in Andrews County in West Texas, about 200 miles from Sierra Blanca, opened to accept the Vermont waste. 

Our ruling

A Facebook ad said, "Sen. Bernie Sanders led the effort to dump Vermont's nuclear waste on a poor Latino community in Texas."

Sanders supported legislation that allowed for the dumping of nuclear waste from Vermont in Texas; the exact site wasn’t specified in the legislation, but it was widely expected to be Sierra Blanca, a low-income, largely Latino community. 

But the post leaves the impression that dumping was done there, when it wasn’t. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Facebook, United We Succeed post, March 9, 2020

Email, Bernie Sanders campaign northeast press secretary Rosemary Boeglin, March 11, 2020, accessed March 11, 2020

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking a viral graphic critical of Bernie Sanders," Sept. 22, 2015

Snopes, "Did Bernie Sanders Support Dumping Nuclear Waste in a ‘Poor Latino Community’?" June 16, 2018, "Anti-Sanders Ad Misleads on ‘Toxic Waste’ Site," Feb. 28, 2020, "Sanders' are still profiting from Sierra Blanca nuclear waste dump, per their 2014 tax return," April 16, 2016

Associated Press, "Texas Agency Denies Permit For Waste Site," Oct. 23, 1998

Texas Monthly, "What You Should Know About Bernie Sanders And A Controversial Proposal To Bring Toxic Waste To Sierra Blanca," Feb. 29, 2016

Texas Tribune, "Bernie Sanders' Nuclear Waste Votes Divide Texas Activists," Feb. 28, 2016

Waste Control Specialists, "Overview," accessed March 12, 2020

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Sanders backed a waste-dump plan in Texas that didn’t happen

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