GUV reaches accord with EnergySolutions

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Summit County residents are cautiously optimistic a compromise reached last week by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and the controversial EnergySolutions firm will reduce the amount of radioactive waste brought to Utah.

The agreement also reaffirms that the company won’t bring higher-level waste into Utah than what is currently being accepted by the state.

"Jon Huntsman obviously strategized well for this," said former Summit County Commissioner Patrick Cone, who is now a member of the state’s Radiation Control Board. "I guess I’m surprised that EnergySolutions entered into that agreement because they have been very forceful in getting what they want."

After disappointing voters this year by not vetoing legislation that removes state oversight from some dealings of EnergySolutions, Huntsman says last week’s agreement means he is keeping his campaign promises.

"I’ve stated consistently from the beginning of my term in office that Utah should not be a dumping ground for radioactive waste," said the governor in a news conference. "This tower of radioactive waste is not created by Utahns and not wanted by Utahns."

The agreement caps waste storage capacity at the company’s Tooele landfill to amounts already approved under existing permits, keeping an additional 117 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste from coming to Utah.

But the compromise, which involved EnergySolutions withdrawing its application to nearly double the amount of stored waste, is only linked to the recently passed Senate Bill 155 in that it stirred his concern about waste volumes in Utah’s west desert, Huntsman said.

"This is a very strange development," Coalville resident Laura Bonham said about the agreement announced March 15.

SB155, which Huntsman allowed into law without his signature, lets EnergySolutions manage its waste piles without getting state approval for every change at its facility about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City.

"This is a bad idea," according to Cone. "The talk in the Senate is that this only lets [EnergySolutions] do whatever they want on the existing section of land they are on."

But Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, who represents Park City in the state Senate, counters that he is comfortable allowing EnergySolutions to expand without legislative oversight only within its current mile-square footprint.

"The Legislature very rarely gives up authority and that should be a red flag," said Cone, who added that some polls show 80 percent of Utahns want lawmakers involved in regulating EnergySolutions’ every move. "I was not pleased [SB155] passed. It’s not in the public interest."

Van Tassell accepted a campaign contribution from EnergySolutions last fall.

"If they want to expand outside of [the footprint] or go to a hotter waste, we will be back in the process and be part of that," said Van Tassell defending his vote on SB155.

Rep. Christine Johnson, who represents parts of the Snyderville Basin in the State House, insists she doesn’t accept money from EnergySolutions, which got its start as Envirocare of Utah in 1988. Nor does she visit the former Delta Center since the sports complex was renamed for the radioactive-waste firm, Johnson said.

She voted against SB155.

But Bonham is disappointed that three out the county’s four legislators, including Rep. Mel Brown and Sen. Allen Christensen, supported the pro-EnergySolutions bill.

"I would like to see [EnergySolutions] have less influence," Bonham said about heavy political contributions the firm makes each year to state lawmakers. "The job of the legislators is to represent the people not the corporations that donate to them."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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