Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Thursday he will not approve the proposed expansion of Envirocare — one of three steps essential for any expansion of the Tooele County nuclear waste disposal facility.

This apparently ends a half-year fight by Envirocare to double the size of its operations near the railroad siding called Clive.

Huntsman told the Deseret Morning News about his opposition during an interview Wednesday. The paper asked about allegations by the anti-nuclear group Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah or HEAL-Utah that Envirocare was seeking to buy access to the governor by hiring as Washington lobbyists two men with close ties to the governor.

Did that place pressure on the governor to approve the company's expansion plans?

"First of all, you have to assume I was going to sign some kind of expansion — which I won't do," Huntsman said.

He campaigned from the first on the position that he did not favor Utah ever being seen as some sort of dumping ground, he said.

"I've taken care of the mill tailings in Moab," the governor added. These are the radioactive wastes that the U.S. Department of Energy said it would move far from its present site near the Colorado River, a decision made after state officials argued strenuously for the move.

"I'm fighting every day, aggressively" to prevent highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods from being stored at the Private Fuel Storage plant proposed for Skull Valley, Tooele County, he said.

As for the Envirocare expansion, he added, "If it were to cross my desk today, I would not sign it."

Utah law requires three steps before Envirocare's plans could be authorized: approval by state regulators, by the Legislature and the governor. The company attempted to have the expansion brought before the Legislature in April's special session, but it did not make it on the list of subjects up for consideration.

Since then, it has been approved by regulators, challenged by HEAL-Utah, and then subjected to an appeal hearing because of HEAL's opposition. Some observers expected the Envirocare expansion to be on the schedule for the next legislative session.

"We're extremely disappointed," said Envirocare senior vice president Tim Barney regarding Huntsman's position.

"The governor had asked us to go through the regulatory process, which we are doing. We're in the middle of that process. There's an appeal pending in front of the Radiation Control Board."

Huntsman had told Envirocare that he would make his decision at the appropriate time "in that process," Barney said.

"We think a decision at this time is premature and is disappointing."

The company began its drive to expand last March or April, he said.

The land, 536 acres adjacent to Envirocare's original property, was purchased earlier this year from Charles Judd, former Envirocare president. Before then, Judd planned to use the site for his own disposal operation, Cedar Mountain Environmental.

Asked if the governor's position would prompt Envirocare to drop the expansion petition before state regulators, Barney said he did not think so.

"We're still evaluating our options," he said.

Jason Groenewold, HEAL's director, issued a press release shortly after word circulated of Huntsman's opposition.

"We commend Gov. Huntsman for putting the health and well-being of Utahns over the profits of Envirocare's investors," said the release. "He clearly showed his resolve to keep Utah from becoming entrenched as the nation's nuclear waste dumping ground."

He added that the governor has allayed concerns HEAL had that Envirocare hiring people close to Huntsman would affect his decision about the Envirocare expansion.

When Groenewold raised questions about the matter, he said in a Deseret Morning News interview, a Huntsman staff member told him the governor would no longer talk to him until he apologized.

On Thursday, Huntsman got an apology from Groenewold.

"His opposition to Envirocare's expansion shows Gov. Huntsman is a man of integrity," Groenewold said in the e-mail press release. "To the extent that I misjudged where the governor would come down on this issue, I offer my sincere apologies."

Listed as Envirocare lobbyists on the federal level, in records of the U.S. Senate, is Farbman Hopkins and Associates, 56 Exchange Place. The form lists as individual lobbyists Gregory L. Hopkins and Max A. Farbman. Their efforts for Envirocare are described as "political strategy, business and management consulting."

Farbman was chairman of Huntsman's special initiative office, handling fund-raising. Hopkins was the director of the governor's transition team.

Earlier Thursday, Barney said Farbman and Hopkins were hired only to lobby for Envirocare on the federal level, not in Utah.

"If you're going to lobby state officials, in this case the governor or state legislators or the attorney general or any state official, then you need to register as a state lobbyist," Barney said.

For lobbying on the federal level, he said, they must lobby with the federal government.

"We hired Farbman and Hopkins exclusively as federal lobbyists," he said. They would not be allowed to lobby in Utah, and they were not hired for that purpose, he added.

"Any claims of conflict of interest is just an outrageous claim," Barney said, "and it's not more than someone trying to find a conspiracy under every rock."

Farbman and Hopkins could not be reached for comment.


E-mail: bau@desnews.com