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Haz-waste fund rejected

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A legislative committee rejected a proposal Wednesday to fund perpetual oversight of hazardous waste sites in Utah and voiced support to revoke an existing perpetual care fund for the state's only radioactive waste dump.

"So, we don't care about the future of this material, that it's not taken care of?" asked Steve Erickson, director of the advocacy group Citizens Education Project. "That's a head-scratcher."

Erickson was perplexed by the decision of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee, which rejected a recommendation by state environmental regulators to have hazardous waste disposers pay for perpetual care of their sites, and to increase the existing $400,000 annual fee EnergySolutions pays for its site.

Utah's hazardous waste and radioactive waste disposal sites are all in Tooele County's zoned Hazardous Waste Corridor. Three of the first type are in the zone, all operated by Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc. The single radioactive waste disposal facility is operated by EnergySolutions, based in Salt Lake City.

All are complying with rules that require funding for closure operations and for a "post-closure" period. For hazardous waste, that's 30 years after closure and for radioactive material, it's 100 years after the site closes.

Under discussion Wednesday was perpetual care, going on forever after the post-closure period. EnergySolutions contributes $400,000 a year to such a fund, amounting to more than $2 million by now, and no such fund exists for hazardous waste sites.

State officials recommended perpetual care for hazardous waste sites. They said the EnergySolutions fund should be adjusted in case the company uses up all its disposal cells earlier than expected — if it closed early, the fund would have much less than intended.

Christopher Thomas, policy director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said after the meeting, "I think that the perpetual care fund makes sense for Utahns. It safeguards them" against possible future problems, he added.

But Phillip Retallick, senior vice president for compliance and regulatory affairs with Clean Harbors, testified against imposing a perpetual care requirement on the company.

"Any additional costs ... have to be passed on and paid for by our clients," he said. Most of these clients for the three sites in Tooele County are from Utah.

The company has about $45 million earmarked for closure and the following 30 years, he said. Because of the scant groundwater, which is briny, and the arid conditions, he added, "there are no pathways of exposure" to the hazardous material.

Tim Barney, senior executive vice president of EnergySolutions, said the perpetual care fee was outdated since it was created with the intent that the company wanted to import B and C waste. But those hotter levels of waste are now banned from Utah, based on legislation that EnergySolutions supported.

Barney cited a statement by a recently retired expert from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, saying perpetual care beyond 100 years is not needed for facilities such as EnergySolutions' site.

Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, moved that the committee not accept either proposal and that it go on record favoring revocation of the $400,000 perpetual care fee paid yearly by EnergySolutions.

Ure's motions passed the committee with little debate. Only Rep. Jackie Biskupski, R-Salt Lake, voted against both, and the sole legislator to join her to defend the EnergySolutions fee was Rep. John G. Mathis, R-Naples.


E-mail: bau@desnews.com