Envirocare of Utah will pay higher taxes on some wastes going to its Tooele County landfill, and it will not be allowed to take hotter wastes without legislative and gubernatorial approval, under terms of a revamped bill.

Now, almost everybody on both sides of the contentious debate feels pretty good about HB145, sponsored by Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George.

"It closes a loophole and sets tax policy for the (waste) task force to discuss in the months ahead," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who had led the Senate's opposition to the bill but is now the Senate sponsor. "I am fine with it. Our biggest concern was that we did not want the Legislature micromanaging Class A wastes. But this bill is appropriate because we are saying the Legislature should have a say for wastes outside that stream."

Bramble and Urquhart are the co-chairmen of a task force looking at waste issues, including Utah's tax structure on waste companies. The task force meets through the end of 2004 and will make recommendations to the Legislature in 2005, when the real fireworks over waste will begin.

Given that Envirocare last year was seeking radioactive wastes from Fernald, Ohio, that were hotter than its current state license, Urquhart said lawmakers could not wait until 2005 to close a loophole that would have skirted current law requiring legislative and gubernatorial approval for hotter wastes, the so-called Class B and C wastes.

Even though Envirocare dropped its request to federal regulators to modify its license to accept the Ohio waste, the loophole came to the attention of lawmakers who last year passed a moratorium on Class B and C wastes pending the task force report. The loophole was created when the Ohio wastes were reclassified as uranium mill tailings, something that is included in Envirocare's current federal license but would have required tweaking by federal regulators.

"It was a loophole big enough to drive a truck or a train through," said Rep. Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake.

Under Envirocare's current license it can take wastes up to 10,000 "picocurries" per gram. The Ohio wastes were 200,000 picocurries per gram.

In its original form, HB145 contained detailed provisions about isotopes and types of waste that would require legislative approval, leading to opposition from Envirocare and some GOP senators, who said it was too much micromanagement. And many House members were confused and overwhelmed by the technical aspects of measuring the amount of radioactivity in waste.

In its current form, the bill says Envirocare can accept the Class A wastes it has always accepted, and any new wastes, regardless of how they are labeled, have to fall within the same levels of radioactivity as what the company now accepts.

"It looks at the contents (of the waste container) rather than the label on the container," said Jason Groenewold with Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, who spoke in favor of the bill.

What does Envirocare get out of it? For one, radioactive wastes mixed with hazardous wastes could contain radioactivity up to the same limits as the rest of the waste dump (currently, the limit on the "mixed waste cell" is dramatically lower than the rest of the facility). And two license applications pending before state regulators are not affected by the legislation so long as the company stays within its current Class A limits.

But the company will pay a 10 percent gross receipts tax on the mixed wastes that are hotter than the mixed wastes it now accepts up to the Class A limit.

Tim Barney, senior vice president at Envirocare, said the company is concerned about the "new tax brought in at the 11th hour," and he warned it is difficult, if not night impossible, to sort the wastes to determine which ones are taxed at 10 percent and which ones should be taxed under the old rate of 5 percent.

The tax is not likely to generate much money for the state. Most of the mixed waste comes from federal government cleanup projects, which are exempt from the tax.

The bill, which unanimously passed the House Utilities and Technology Committee, was also supported by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. It now goes to the full House.


E-mail: spang@desnews.com