Changes to Utah's hazardous waste regulations will most likely not include any substantial changes to the tax rates or fees charged to waste disposal facilities that accept low-level nuclear waste.

In one of the final meetings for the Utah Legislature's Hazardous Waste Regulation and Tax Policy Task Force, members Tuesday approved with minimal discussion a number of changes that will be included in an omnibus bill for the 2005 general session, and changing taxes or fees were not among them.

Among the proposed revisions are changes to allow more precise calculation of waste amounts, an increase in penalties to reflect inflation, and amendments to the site review process. The task force will not recommend changes to the rules about who can own waste disposal sites or what kind of waste is allowed in the state, since current law prohibits the hotter B and C wastes.

The task force was created in 2003 to examine the tax structures for waste disposal facilities, as well as look at what kind of waste should be allowed. The task force's commission expires at the start of the 2005 session.

The task force was also given a report about the taxes and fees paid by Envirocare of Utah when compared to other comparable disposal facilities. In essence, the Tooele County-based company pays less in taxes and fees for the amount of waste they receive, but they pay it receives, but it pays more for the radioactive levels of that waste.

Despite criticism from the Healthy Environmental Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) suggesting that the fees charged to Envirocare, as well as the amount of money put into a contingency fund that would cover cleanup if the company goes out of business, are insufficient, legislators seemed hesitant to increase the company's tax burden. At most, they may remove an exemption on mixed waste from the Department of Energy, which totals approximately 10 percent of their overall revenue.

Regulators are also loathe to suggest an increase in the tax burden for Envirocare. Bill Sinclair, deputy director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said that since taxes on Envirocare were raised significantly in 2001, the reserve fund for cleanup has drastically improved. Unless that changes, even more revenue for the fund is unnecessary.

"There's no need for an increase of fees at this time," Sinclair said.

Last fiscal year, Envirocare paid $8.7 million in state taxes and fees, according to a report from legislative research analyst Bryant Howe, an increase of $4.7 million from the previous fiscal year. Much of the increase is attributable to new contracts, since the Legislature's 2001 tax increase on radioactive waste only applied to contracts signed after the increase became effective. They also paid $7.4 million in county taxes.

According to Howe, when compared to two other similar disposal facilities in Richland, Wash., and Barnwell, S.C., Envirocare pays $0.78 per cubic foot of waste, while Richland pays $19 and Barnwell pays $446. However, when the amount of taxes paid per curie — a measure of the radioactivity of the waste — are compared, Envirocare pays $885 per curie, while Barnwell pays $81 and Richland pays $254.

The discrepancy is because Envirocare cannot take class B and C waste, which is hotter, Howe said, and they also receive much less overall waste. Additionally, the two other facilities are government owned, which exempts them from property taxes.

Jason Groenewold, director of HEAL Utah, said that the low rate charged for Envirocare's volume demonstrates that the company is not paying enough to the state.

"We're not charging them a lot to store their waste, especially when you consider how much we charge people to just take their household garbage to the dump," Groenewold said.


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com