Gov. Mike Leavitt has announced Utah will not become a nuclear-waste dump. No way, no how. But two legislative committees have delivered a political slap in the face to the new governor.
Leavitt also heard sharply differing opinions on the desirability of siting a nuclear-waste storage facility in the state from representatives of the Navajo Nation and the Skull Valley Tribe of the Goshute Indians.The House Natural Resources Committee voted 13-3 on Tuesday to kill a legislative resolution echoing the governor's opposition to the location of nuclear-waste dump sites in the state.
Later in the day, the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee voted to table another legislative resolution supporting Leavitt's pledge to fight a nuclear-waste storage facility on a Goshute Indian reservation.
The sponsor of both resolutions, Rep. Norm Nielsen, R-Orem, said he hopes to bring them onto the floor of the House Wednesday for a vote through a parliamentary maneuver.
Nielsen said he introduced the resolutions on behalf of constituents concerned about the safety of transporting nuclear waste through the state on its way to a dump site, not on behalf of the governor.
San Juan County and the Skull Valley Tribe of Goshute Indians in Tooele County have both been trying to secure a federally operated radioactive waste facility, moves opposed by Leavitt.
Most members of the Natural Resources Committee come from economically depressed rural Utah, and they lambasted Leavitt's opposition as unfair meddling in decisions that are more appropriately left to the counties.
Similar sentiments were heard in the Transportation and Public Safety Committee, with representatives noting that the Indian tribe is a sovereign nation that couldn't be stopped anyway by a state government.
San Juan County Commissioner Bill Redd was optimistic Monday. "Hopefully, the governor, with better evidence and more cogent reasoning, will change his mind," he said.
Leavitt, however, stood firm. "The decision's been made, and as far as I'm concerned it's unalterable. End of discussion," Leavitt said.
Redd said residents in San Juan County are split about 50-50 on whether or not to locate the facility there, "but the opposition is for political reasons, not based on the merits of the project."
The Utah Association of Counties spoke against the measure, saying San Juan County should decide the issue, not the state. "The concern of counties is they need to have the flexibility not to shut the door to economic development options," said association spokesman Mark Walsh.
Peterson Zah, president of the Navajo Nation, told lawmakers on Tuesday that his government, headquartered in Window Rock, Ariz., would use its resources to oppose a radioactive waste dump in San Juan County.
Too many Navajos have died of uranium-caused cancers, he said, and the Navajo Nation distrusts the U.S. government when it says nuclear projects are safe.
"We have had a moratorium in effect until the white man shows us he can cure cancer," Zah said, adding the Navajos fought New Mexico on a toxic waste dump and won. "We should learn from the past."
Zah delivered a similar message to Leavitt at his first meeting with the new governor. "In the name of jobs, many people (already) died," Zah said. "There are too many people running around out there saying, `Jobs, jobs, jobs.' "
Danny Quintana, legal counsel to the Skull Valley Tribe of Goshute Indians, said the jobs the waste facility would provided are needed but acknowledged the issue is emotional.