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Two lawmakers dismiss conflict of interest in their involvement with proposed nuke power plant

Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, and Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, defended their involvement in a proposed nuclear power plant during a meeting today of the Legislature's Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee.

The meeting was conducted by Noel, who is the chairman of the committee, and Tilton is the committee's vice chairman. Witnesses before the group were in favor of nuclear power, including a former head of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Tilton is an owner of Transition Power Development, which would build the plant, and Noel is director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, which would supply the water it needs, at a price that is supposed to reach $1 million a year.

Although the committee had discussed a bill to help regulated utilities pay for nuclear power plants by using ratepayer funds before construction begins, both representatives insisted they had no conflict of interest. An obviously perturbed Noel mentioned newspaper reports this week that pointed out the lawmakers' potential conflicts of interest. The Deseret Morning News first reported on the potential conflicts on Tuesday.

"Each of us has a life outside the Legislature," Noel told the committee. "Mine happens to be with the Wane County Water Conservancy District and my cows down in southern Utah."

The district is a municipal entity and he is paid a salary. "I don't get any extra salary" for bringing in new customers, he said. The district acquired water rights 10 years ago from Andelex Coal, and he has mentioned on the House floor that the district had the water rights and a great use for them would be to help build a nuclear power plant in southern Utah.

Noel said that a couple of months ago, he was asked about joining Transition Power. "I have actually received not one dime from the sale or lease of these water rights," he said.

But people of Kane County lost out on a coal mine and a power plant, he said, and they would benefit from the nuclear power-generating facility.

Speaking to the committee in favor of nuclear power plants were David Hill, deputy director for science and technology for the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, and Nils Diaz, former chairman of the NRC. No witnesses were called opposing the idea.

Tilton moved from his committee seat to a witness chair beside Diaz. Tilton also denied any conflict of interest in his legislative chairmanship and his involvement in Transition Power Development. He said the legislation considered was about possible breaks for regulated utilities, and he could not have benefited from it. "We're not a regulated utility," he said of Transition Power.

Vanessa Pierce, director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, Salt Lake City, said after the meeting that Tilton and Noel treated serious questions about conflict of interest as if they were punch lines in jokes.