By Peter Henderson and Karen Brooks
(Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry has sidelined a state commissioner opposed to expanding the scope of a nuclear-waste landfill while appointing a new board to oversee a project owned by one of his biggest political donors.
Perry, who tops the list of candidates seeking the Republican nomination to run for U.S. president, has said his appointments are based on experience. A spokeswoman said the new makeup of the commission reflected its "evolving needs."
Billionaire Harold Simmons and his company Waste Control Specialists LLC stand to gain millions of dollars from accepting out-of-state shipments at a new West Texas facility for low level nuclear waste, such as cut up reactors.
Simmons has donated more than $1 million to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns.
Perry wields power through thousands of appointments to commissions and university boards.
His administration previously had tried to move landfill operator Bobby Gregory, who has opposed the out-of-state shipments, off the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission.
Gregory and three others were replaced with new commissioners including two environmental health and safety specialists, a private equity investor and a former power industry executive.
Perry's spokeswoman, Lucy Nashed, denied the decision to leave Gregory off the board was related to his caution on out-of-state nuclear waste imports. "This notion that it's because he was against something -- that's really incorrect," she said.
Commissioner Bob Wilson, who becomes chairman of the newly constituted board, had a similar voting record, she added.
"We are really looking at the board's evolving needs moving forward, and we are very thankful for Bobby Gregory's time on the board and his service to Texas," Nashed said.
Gregory could not be reached for comment.
Tom Smith, director of watchdog Public Citizen's Texas Office, called Gregory's removal irresponsible.
"Commissioner Gregory's removal appears intended to silence a potential critic at the behest of a major Perry donor rather than to serve the best interests of Texas," he said in a statement. He congratulated Wilson, whom he called the best qualified to head the commission.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin and Peter Henderson in San Francisco)