Anti-nuke activists worried all session long that Envirocare would try to railroad legislation making it easier for the company to dispose of much-hotter radioactive wastes at its Tooele County dump.
By the end of the session, the advocates were feeling run over by a train."There are some other things we are looking at doing to stop it," said Steve Erickson with Utah Downwinders, an anti-nuclear group opposed to Envirocare's proposal. "It was just unconscionable what they did."
What lawmakers did was insert "intent" language in the Department of Environmental Quality budget that mandates state regulators process Envirocare's application "expeditiously." That, opponents say, puts regulators under the political gun, and some are suggesting it shows the Legislature is predisposed to approve the permit even though it hasn't yet passed regulatory review.
Envirocare has an application pending before the Division of Radiation Control to allow the company to accept class B and class C wastes -- wastes hundreds of times more radioactive than the class A contaminated soils the company currently accepts. The market for the hotter wastes is expected to increase dramatically if and when South Carolina curtails shipments of those wastes to a facility there.
Under Utah law, if Envirocare's request passes local (the Tooele County Commission has given its OK) and state regulatory muster, it must be ratified by the governor and Legislature. Envirocare wants its application ready for legislative review by the 2001 session.
Senate Majority Whip Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, the author of the intent language, said lawmakers aren't pressuring regulators to approve the application. "We just want them to move it along expeditiously," he said.
The irony of the issue is that while lawmakers may have made it easier on Envirocare to process its applications for wastes much more lethal than anything now stored in Utah, lawmakers also approved a $200,000 appropriation to help fund a lawsuit brought by Goshute tribal members opposed to their tribal government's decision to allow a nuclear waste repository in Skull Valley, not far from Envirocare's landfill.
The tribal government entered into a lease agreement with a consortium of mostly Eastern power utilities to store spent nuclear fuel rods on tribal lands about 40 miles west of Salt Lake City. Gov. Mike Leavitt has vowed to block the shipments.
The waste Envirocare wants to store is not as lethal as spent nuclear fuel rods. It consists primarily of medical wastes and byproducts from the decommissioning of nuclear power plants.