For years, Dallas businessman and philanthropist Harold Simmons has waged a campaign to open a low-level radioactive-waste facility in Andrews, in far West Texas. A special commission will decide whether the site run by Simmons’ Waste Control Specialists LLC can begin accepting waste generated in as many as 36 states, despite the objections of environmental activists. The 79-year-old billionaire spoke with us recently about the controversial project and his other endeavors.
Q: It’s said that you’ve given a lot of money to Gov. Rick Perry over the years, and that in return you’re expecting to get this WCS project OK’d. Is there anything to that?
A: I think the figure they used was $600,000—I saw that somewhere—over about 11 or 12 years. That’s not that much, for a guy that gives as much money as I do. [Laughs.] I give a lot more than that to politicians. I think Rick Perry’s a good governor; he’s got the best interests of Texas in mind. That’s the reason I support him.
Q: A couple of years ago, you declined an interview with us because you said all your businesses were “going to hell” at the time. How are your companies doing these days, and how does the Andrews project fit into your overall portfolio?
A: We have several other companies that dwarf Waste Control Specialists right now. This is small potatoes to us. But in saying that, we’ve got nearly $300 million into the [Andrews] deal, but we’ve done it over a period of 13 years; add interest in, it’s probably $500 million. So it’s important because we think it has a realistic future, and something the nation needs, and of course we hope to make a significant profit after all these years. My other businesses have come back dramatically. We’re setting records now. [Recently] we had an all-time high in our chemical business, which is our biggest business. It does about $1.5 billion a year. Titanium Metals is coming back strong. Titanium Metals is tied heavily to the new aircraft that Boeing is trying to produce, and they want to start production in the fourth quarter.
Q: The Andrews project has the potential to make a lot of money for you, doesn’t it?
A: It has the potential, we think, to make $100 million a year, if everything works out and we get it going. But it’s a high overhead to make it work. So it could sit out there and lose money for years and years.
Q: Are you continuing full-steam with your philanthropic contributions?
A: We’ve given more than $400 million over the years. I still have pledges to UT Southwestern for about another $100 million, which we hope to complete in the next couple of years. We still give away a lot of money every year. The last two years we’ve cut it down because business was bad. Now that business is getting good again, we’ll kind of pick up the pace.