Feb 18, 2009
As Utah lawmakers struggle to milk as much use as they can out of dwindling state revenues, a possible nuclear cash cow has stepped forward with an alluring promise of dollars.
EnergySolutions Inc. officials have been in talks with top legislative leaders over inking a possible deal that would infuse the state with millions of dollars in exchange for being allowed to import low-level foreign waste.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said Tuesday he had met with EnergySolutions officials but declined to discuss the details.
"They just brought a proposal they wanted us to consider. We're just gathering information," Waddoups told reporters.
Jill Sigal, the company's vice president of corporate communications and government relations, said talks have focused on devoting 4.3 acres out of the 640 acres at the Clive facility to process foreign Class A radioactive waste. In exchange, EnergySolutions would give the state 50 percent of the net revenue generated from the disposal, which over the course of 10 years would mean a $1 billion boost, or even more, to the state wallet.
Sigal pointed out that the company is already receiving Canadian waste and has done so for eight years.
"This is not anything new. There is no difference between internationally developed material or material developed in Texas or Louisiana. This is not a health or safety issue. … Utah, because of its geology in the West Desert, is the perfect location for disposing of this material whether it comes from Texas or whether it comes from Italy."
Waddoups concedes the EnergySolutions proposal may still be a tough sell.
"It's an issue the public has strong feelings on and the governor has spoken out on," Waddoups said, adding he expected to talk with the governor about it later Tuesday. "The question is, is this something we want in our state."
Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, said there's no interest in expanding the company's footprint or in accepting higher-level waste.
The discussions with EnergySolutions include neither of those areas, he said, because it's only the importation of low-level foreign waste that would bring in the money to the state.
Killpack said a pending lawsuit involving the company and the importation of foreign waste needs to be decided. "Until that's resolved, a lot of this discussion is simple discussion," he said. "In the end, it will be a policy decision and the Legislature will make a determination."
Asked if it was too late in the session to tackle such a controversial topic — especially given the ongoing efforts to deal with the state's budget shortfalls — Killpack said he couldn't comment. "Stranger things have happened," he said.
Lisa Roskelley, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s spokeswoman, said such proposal would not sway the governor's position against importing foreign nuclear waste.
"He would not be in favor of any legislation that would be contrary to that."
In the meantime, even discussions surrounding such a proposal are fueling harsh criticisms.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said Tuesday the plans by EnergySolutions Inc. are appalling.
"I am outraged that Utah legislators would even consider allowing our state to become the universal dumping ground for the world's nuclear garbage and I know most Utahns share my anger," Matheson said. "The influence-peddling that is going on doesn't obscure the fact that federal rules are in place to protect the health, safety and economic well-being of the states when it comes to handling and storage of dangerous radioactive waste. No other country on earth takes another country's nuclear waste and I am determined that the U.S. won't be the exception."
Matheson has introduced bipartisan legislation that bans the importation of foreign waste.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not yet acted on a licensing request from EnergySolutions to import 20,000 tons of radioactive waste from Italy, with disposal in Utah of 1,600 tons after processing and recycling. But The Northwest Interstate Compact on Radioactive Waste Management has voted to reject that proposal. EnergySolutions filed a lawsuit challenging the authority of the compact to regulate foreign waste imports.
Feb 18, 2009
Salt Lake Tribune
$1.5 billion? » Many lawmakers like EnergySolutions' proposal.
The idea of using foreign radioactive waste to plug Utah's gaping budget hole may seem enticing to lawmakers, but Utah's governor and a congressman attacked the prospect Tuesday as an indecent proposal.
U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, called the idea "appalling" and said the EnergySolutions Inc. proposal only underscores the need for his national legislation to ban waste imports from foreign nations.
"I am outraged," he said in a statement, "that Utah legislators would even consider allowing our state to become the universal dumping ground for the world's nuclear garbage, and I know most Utahns share my anger."
Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the Salt Lake City-based nuclear waste company's offer to split roughly $3 billion in foreign-waste profits with the state has not changed his opposition to allowing foreign waste in Utah.
"Our position is abundantly clear," he said Tuesday after meeting with legislative leaders. "Let's just say that the price the state pays for being a dumping ground lasts forever. The recession will not."
Meanwhile, noting that the discussions with EnergySolutions are still in the early stages, Senate President Mike Waddoups said the money could be helpful to meet the needs for education and road projects. State budget-makers projected the shortfall for 2010 to be $320 million.
EnergySolutions told The Salt Lake Tribune last week that state coffers could see between $1 billion and $1.5 billion over the 10-year life of the 50-50 profit-sharing agreement.
Only the same low-level waste that EnergySolutions takes from 36 U.S. states would be part of the deal -- not the high-level reactor waste nor the hotter Class B and C waste banned in Utah. And 4.3 acres, or 5 percent of the remaining capacity of the mile-square disposal site in Tooele County, would be used for the foreign waste, the company said.
EnergySolutions spokeswoman Jill Sigal took issue with both the facts and tone of Matheson's statement.
"Mr. Matheson certainly has the right to his opinion," she added. "We have been talking to people in the Legislature and the governor, and we want to see" their reaction to the proposal. "We hope they do consider it."
Huntsman's approval is crucial. Otherwise a regional waste authority will block foreign waste coming into Utah.
The company has filed suit in federal court, contending that the regional organization, the Northwest Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management, has no authority over its operations.
House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, said lawmakers need to move fast.
"The state is going to lose the lawsuit, and EnergySolutions is probably going to be able to bring this waste in anyway," he said. "And, if they do, there's going to be an opportunity for Utah to be a partner."
"There is a revenue stream there for sure," Garn added. "And, given the limited facilities in the world that can even receive this, I'm sure the price is very high."
Matheson, who is sponsoring the U.S. House version of legislation to ban such waste as a national policy, described the proposal as "influence-peddling." EnergySolutions has donated to the campaigns of 80 percent of Utah's sitting legislators.
"No other country on earth takes another country's nuclear waste, Matheson said, "and I am determined that the U.S. won't be the exception."
Feb 17, 2009
A resolution supporting nuclear power as a prudent investment passed its first test at the Capitol by a four to two vote in a Senate committee yesterday. Former state Representative Aaron Tilton, CEO of Transition Power Development, told the committee that nuclear power suffers from many misconceptions.
"Nuclear power has been proven. The data is out there that demonstrates that it's safe, cost-effective, secure," Tilton said. "We've got 52 years worth of operations, which equates to about 3,400 reactor years in operations and not a single injury to the public."
Tilton said the resolution is not just about promoting his company, though he acknowledges it's currently the only one pursuing a nuclear power plant in Utah. He believes the majority of Utahns are in favor of building more nuclear power plants.
However, most people who came to testify during the hour-long debate yesterday spoke against the resolution. All but three of the 16 who testified told the committee they're concerned about the safety, cost, and environmental impacts of nuclear power. Christopher Thomas with the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah said Tilton's statements were "deliberately misleading." He says lawmakers should instead pursue renewable energy development.
"There are other options. We don't think the Utah State Legislature needs to decree that nuclear power is cost-effective," Thomas said. "I think the market will determine that and I think Utahns understand that."
Thomas said he's disappointed the resolution is moving forward, but heartened that the proposal garnered two dissenting votes from senators who questioned whether nuclear power is indeed cost-effective, and if it's wise to pursue it when the federal government hasn't been able to deliver on its promise to build a permanent nuclear waste facility. Two other bills introduced by Democrats in the House and Senate aim to restrict nuclear development unless it's cost-effective and a permanent waste facility is operational.
Feb 16, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY - EnergySolutions has a new proposal that is meeting with mixed reactions. The idea is to bring foreign nuclear waste to the EnergySolutions facility in Clive, Utah. If they get the go-ahead, they propose to split the profits with the state.
A spokesman for the company says meetings with local businesses and legislators has met with positive feedback. The foreign waste would take up just five percent of the facility's 4.3 acre capacity. The waste would be no more dangerous than that already being recieved from plants in the United States. Utah's share of the profits could reach a billion dollars over the ten year period proposed.
Vanessa Pierce of the group Heal Utah, is one of many against the idea. "We think that the countries who create this waste and who benefit from making it should be responsible for disposing of it, " said Price. She accuses EnergySolutions of taking advantage of the current economic situation to "buy off " the state. Pierce pointed out that a recession may last a few years, but the radioactive waste will be around for up to thousands of years.
EnergySolutions has yet to present the idea to Governor Huntsman, who has opposed bringing foreign waste into Utah.
Feb 15, 2009
Salt Lake Tribune
There are few forces on Capitol Hill that can compare with EnergySolutions' influence.
The company has generously spread around more than $500,000 in state political contributions since 2006, contributing money to more than 80 percent of sitting lawmakers.
Moreover, the company employs at least 10 of the most influential lobbyists in the state, including a former House speaker and a Senate president, their spouses and a handful of other power brokers.
EnergySolutions spokeswoman Jill Sigal said the company is exercising its Constitutional right to make its voice heard in and engage in the political process.
"We are a nuclear services company, so EnergySolutions supports candidates who are pro-nuclear and we think it's very important for everyone, whether it's a corporation or individual, to participate in the political process," she said.
In recent days, company officials have been working quietly with legislative leaders on a proposal that would mean $1 billion for the state over the next decade. But the deal hinges on the company getting help from the Legislature in winning permission to dispose of foreign-generated radioactive waste at the company's Tooele County facility.
The effort will test the resolve of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who has adamantly opposed the importation of the waste form Italy and other countries but is also confronted with trying, along with legislators, to plug a budget deficit created by a spiraling economy.
Details of EnergySolutions proposal to the Legislature are expected to be announced in the coming week. But the company has already been active in building goodwill with legislators.
Since 2006, the company has made $538,580 in political contributions to candidates and political parties, according to an analysis of its campaign finance reports. The Utah Republican Party is the leading recipient, receiving $154,520 from the company, follwed by the Utah Democratic Party, which has received $44,900.
The Democrats' Blue Dog Political Action Committee received $22,000, the Salt Lake County Republican Party received $20,800 and the House Conservative Caucus was given $20,000 by the company.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is the leading individual beneficiary of EnergySolutions' campaign assistance, receiving $30,000, followed by Sen. John Valentine who garnered $19,950 and former House Speaker Greg Curtis, who was given $10,450 before he lost his election last year. Curtis' political action committee was given another $10,000.
Working the hallways, the company has its own government-relations staff as well as the 10 registered lobbyists. But Sigal said EnergySolutions' biggest advocate is its CEO, Steve Creamer, who has already met with lawmakers to discuss the company's idea regarding foreign waste.
"His passion for the company and helping our nation address its energy challenges, [mean] he's the best ambassador the company has," Sigal said.
Others working for EnergySolutions include former Senate President Miles "Cap" Ferry and former House Speaker H. Craig Moody and their spouses. Ferry's son is House Rules Committee Chairman Ben Ferry and his nephew, David Stewart, is also lobbying for the company.
In addition, EnergySolutions has Scott Sabey, who has lobbied for the Utah Bar Association and others, and well-connected lobbyists Spencer Stokes and Charles Evans working on its behalf.
Top recipients of EnergySolutions political contributions
» Utah Republican Party: $154,520
» Utah Democratic Party: $44,900
» Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff: $30,000
» Utah Blue Dog PAC: $22,000
» Salt Lake County Republican Party: $20,800
» Conservative Caucus: $20,000
» Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem: $19,950
» Senate Republican Campaign Committee: $18,800 (includes $3,000 to Utah Senate Republicans)
» Utah House Republican Committee: $11,500
» Quality Jobs Coalition: $10,500 (Utah GOP Chairman Stan Lockhart, Treasurer)
» Former Rep. Greg Curtis, R-Sandy: $10,450
» Speakers PAC: $10,000 (operated by Greg Curtis)
Source: EnergySolutions campaign finance disclosures
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