Huntsman readies veto for proposed foreign-waste deal
Feb 19, 2009
By Robert Gehrke
Salt Lake Tribune
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. says he will veto any attempt by the Legislature and EnergySolutions to bring foreign radioactive waste into the state.
Huntsman said he told legislative leaders "in no uncertain terms" that he would reject a profit-sharing proposal the company has discussed with legislative and community leaders.
It marks the first time this legislative session Huntsman has publicly threatened to use his veto power setting the stage for a high-stakes showdown between the Legislature and the popular governor.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said Huntsman's veto threat won't deter lawmakers from exploring the idea, but it does change the math.
Any proposal brought forward would have to be able to overcome Huntsman's opposition, meaning it would need support from two-thirds of the Legislature.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that officials from EnergySolutions were in quiet talks with legislative leaders regarding the prospect of a 50-50 split of up to $3 billion in profits from disposal of low-level radioactive waste from foreign countries. In exchange, EnergySolutions would get state backing in its disposal strategy.
The importation plan is being blocked by the Northwest Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management, a regional waste authority, at Huntsman's behest. EnergySolutions has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the compact's authority. A hearing is scheduled Feb. 26, and some in the Legislature say they are expecting a ruling in favor of the company.
Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, who was in a meeting along with Waddoups when Huntsman issued his ultimatum, said it is premature to say no to a bill that hasn't been written yet.
"What we want to have prepared is, if this thing gets settled legally and the waste is going to be coming here, how are we going to support it," he said.
Jill Sigal, senior vice president for government relations for EnergySolutions, said that while it appears the governor is not supportive of the company's offer, "we hope that…the Legislature would seriously consider it and we'll see where it goes from there."
She said the company had planned all along to use the revenue from the disposal of the international material to "do some good things for the people of Utah," like buy computers for schoolchildren, but given the economic crisis, she said it made sense to offer the funds to the Legislature.
The company is running television advertisements featuring CEO Steve Creamer discussing the company's plan to share the foreign waste proceeds.
Opponents of the EnergySolutions plan praised Huntsman's hard-line stance.
"EnergySolutions has bought the Delta Center [naming rights], hours of air time and is now going for the state of Utah. Thank goodness that Governor Huntsman has proven that he can't be bought, and Utah can't be sold," said Vanessa Pierce, executive director of the Health Environment Alliance of Utah. "Now it's time for the Legislature to prove the same."
U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said in a statement Tuesday that he was "outraged that Utah legislators would even consider allowing our state to become the universal dumping ground for the world's nuclear garbage."
Under the concept legislative leaders are considering, EnergySolutions would be allowed to use about 5 percent of their mile-square disposal site in Tooele County to bury foreign waste. The material disposed of would be no more dangerous than the low-level waste it accepts now.
There is a narrow window of time to take advantage of the EnergySolutions offer, and lawmakers want to have legislation ready to go by next week.
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