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LEGISLATURE RUSHES TO SLAM WASTE LOOPHOLE SHUT

A company that wants to build a waste dump near Green River, Emery County, is trying to do it by crawling through a huge hazardous-waste-law loophole - which Utah lawmakers rushed to close late Wednesday.

Texas-based ITEX-Environmental Services Inc. wants to build a landfill that would exclusively accept mining waste.Why only mining waste?

Because that type of material, also known as "Bevel waste," is exempt from state and federal laws governing solid and hazardous waste.

So, in effect, ITEX would be able to build the landfill and operate it without being subject to laws and dumping fees that other waste facilities in Utah are subject to.

"That would be a big competitive disadvantage and bad public policy," said John Ward, spokesman for ECDC Environmental Inc., which operates a huge landfill in East Carbon, Carbon County.

One of the major portions of the law that ITEX would be able to avoid is the requirement that their landfill be reviewed and approved by the Utah governor and Legislature.

Under federal law, Bevel wastes, named for the U.S. senator who procured their exemption, are not categorized as hazardous wastes, even though they contain heavy metals and other toxicants considered by environmental engineers to be hazardous. State law, which cannot supersede federal law on that matter, does not even address Bevel waste in its laws regulating solid wastes.

The only jurisdiction the state has is over groundwater quality issues.

The Legislature took up the issue during House and Senate caucuses Wednesday, but a lack of consensus among lawmakers kept Gov. Mike Leavitt from putting the issue before the special session.

However, a majority of lawmakers were seriously concerned the loophole would allow yet another hazardous waste dump into Utah - without legislative approval.

So Rep. Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, attached "legislative intent" to a funding bill before the Legislature that specifically prohibits the state Department of Environmental Quality from spending any money to permit any new landfills that receive hazardous substances from off-site sources.

The reasoning is simple. If DEQ is prohibited from spending any money to do groundwater studies or issue groundwater permits, the Green River waste dump can't get a permit to store its otherwise legal waste.That might buy the Legislature at least eight months' time so it can readdress the Bevel waste issue in the January 1996 session.

"It's not the way I would have done it, but I don't see anything about it that violates the existing policy of the Legislature or the department," Leavitt said.

Rep. Norm Nielsen, R-Orem, a longtime advocate of less hazardous waste in Utah and higher waste fees, worried that the last-minute amendment would give some existing dumps in Utah a competitive advantage over a new company trying to locate here. Nielsen also worried that the amendment would exempt current dumps from state regulations - just as a new dump coming in would be exempt.

"Now in a special session, with no public hearings, no other side of the story, we're going to exempt the (current) businesses from going to a higher level of hazardous waste storage (the Bevel waste). This is a mistake," he said. But Nielsen's attempt to remove the part of the amendment that would exempt current dumps from the new-siting restrictions failed.

The last-minute maneuvering by the Legislature may not stop the company from building a waste dump. Legislative intent language is technically not part of state law and is not legally binding. And ITEX already has sued the state once over its failure to get the contract to remove the Sharon Steel tailings.

"I hope (the amendment) buys us some time. I would have been happier if we had opened up the law and fixed the problem," said Sen. Craig Peterson, R-Orem. "We don't want to be in the business of attracting toxic contaminants to this state."

Lobbyists for ECDC worked actively Tuesday and Wednesday to persuade lawmakers to close the loophole before ITEX could begin construction.

The local attorney for ITEX was out of town this week and unavailable for comment.