Lawmakers, concerned there's enough money to manage Envirocare's Tooele County landfill 100 years from now, are looking at tweaking a law that requires the radioactive waste giant to put $400,000 a year in a contingency fund.

That law, which went into effect in 2001, requires Envirocare to set aside the money each year into a so-called "perpetual fund" that the Radiation Control Board would review every five years.

Yet some lawmakers weren't comfortable waiting until 2006 to talk about the issue.

"Why wait?" questioned Sen. Patrice Arent, D-Cottonwood. "I want to make sure the broader issues are analyzed by the Radiation Control Board."

The Hazardous Waste Regulation and Tax Policy Task Force, nearing the end of a two-year study on waste issues, met Tuesday to discuss the financial ramifications involved should Envirocare shut down its Tooele County facility.

Envirocare officials estimate it would cost $40.7 million should it decide today to shut down its operations and monitor the facility for 100 years — a figure that's based on a technical industry formulation to make sure that radiation isn't leaking into the groundwater. (Radioactive waste can take at least 100 years to decay and become unharmful but some types of waste remain radioactive for thousands of years.)

The perpetual fund, which currently has $1.2 million in it, would cover any unexpected costs not covered under Envirocare's closure and post-closure fund.

Critics clearly are uncomfortable that there will be money to cover the unexpected catastrophic events.

"If something goes wrong taxpayers are in a vulnerable situation," said Jason Groenewold, director of Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL-Utah). "We shouldn't put blinders on that nothing will happen."

Envirocare officials think the law should be changed to apply to mining companies or industrial facilities where such hazardous waste like arsenic and lead take longer than 100 years to decay.

"We support the reasons for a perpetual fund," said Tim Barney, senior vice president of Envirocare. "But don't single us out for special legislation."

The majority of the task force appeared comfortable with the state requiring Envirocare to have an irrevocable line of credit to assure the state that there's money in the bank to pay for the costs of cleanup when it closes a dump site. That was an issue that some lawmakers wanted reviewed.

"A letter of credit is every bit as sound as cash," said Rep. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George.

State auditors, however, recommended that Envirocare and state regulators go a step beyond that and refine a trust agreement that would meet satisfy federal regulations.

The task force plans to review that before it submits a final report in November on any recommendations it will make to the 2005 Legislature.


E-mail: donna@desnews.com