Legislators may shake up foreign-waste profit-sharing deal
Feb 25, 2009
By Judy Fahys And Robert Gehrke
Salt Lake Tribune
Radioactive » Leaders say they won't help EnergySolutions, but might try to split any possible future returns anyway.
EnergySolutions offered to split $3 billion in profits with the state if lawmakers cleared the way for the company to bury foreign radioactive waste in Utah.
But now the state is thinking about taking some of the profits without providing the requested help.
Capitol Hill leaders said Tuesday they might write a bill that would require the company to give the state a share of any foreign-waste revenues if EnergySolutions wins its pending lawsuit on the issue.
"In terms of [EnergySolutions'] proposal," said Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, "they have a proposal, but that isn't our proposal."
The Salt Lake City nuclear waste company has blitzed the airwaves with commercials promoting its profit-sharing idea for more than a week. And key company officials have met with leaders in the Legislature to discuss their proposition: a 50-50 split of an estimated $3 billion in profits over a decade -- revenue the state could get only by welcoming radioactive waste from foreign nuclear plant cleanups.
And, to do so, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. would have to drop his objections to foreign waste in Utah. Otherwise, the Legislature would have to muster a two-thirds majority to override his veto and withdraw from the regional waste agency that insists foreign waste is banned in Utah.
"It is up to the Legislature whether to act on that proposal," said EnergySolutions spokeswoman Jill Sigal. "Whether or not they want to do that is fine."
"We haven't changed our plans about contributing 50 percent of our net revenue to the people of Utah," she added. If foreign waste flows into its Tooele County landfill, EnergySolutions says it will use its nonprofit foundation to distribute 50 percent of profits to local charities for cancer research, college students, public schools and reducing air pollution.
Oral arguments in the foreign-waste lawsuit are set for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. Company lawyers will square off against lawyers for the Northwest Compact, the state and the Rocky Mountain Compact. At issue is whether Congress gave the compacts authority to control waste at the EnergySolutions site, the nation's only privately owned and operated waste disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste.
One option discussed in private Capitol Hill meetings in recent weeks has been whether the Utah Legislature should pull the state out of the Northwest Compact.
Trouble was, radioactive waste generated by in-state businesses and universities that is too hot for EnergySolutions now goes to a government-owned disposal site in Washington state thanks to Utah's membership in the Northwest Compact.
"The Legislature isn't going to interfere with that process," said House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton. "It's going through the courts now."
Lawmakers also found themselves in personal cost-benefit analysis: fight the governor, who promised to veto any foreign waste bill, and public opposition for uncertain revenue.
"In spite of EnergySolutions' best attempts to buy off the state of Utah," said Vanessa Pierce, director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, "the public's message was clear: Utah is not for sale. And, thankfully, our leaders heard that message."
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