Feb 24, 2009
Utah GOP legislative leaders say EnergySolutions offer to pay the state upwards of $100 million a year over the next decade to dump overseas low-level radioactive waste at its West Desert site is "all but dead."
The state is in perilous economic times, down $1.5 billion in tax revenue over two years. Facing either deep cuts to state services or possible tax hikes, the offer is enticing to lawmakers.
In fact, GOP legislative leaders are now talking about some kind of tax increase this session so "critical, vital" state programs won't be "crippled" by cutbacks in fiscal 2010, which starts July 1.
One proposal would place all of the state sales tax back on to unprepared food, raising about $180 million.
But the EnergySolutions deal would require the state getting out of the Northwest Compact, a hazardous waste agreement between a number of states. "And there are real, serious problem with that," one leader said Monday.
However, Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, said it's too soon to predict the fate of the Energy Solutions proposal.
"I'm not saying it's active or it's dead," Killpack said.
Various options were still being discussed, he said. However, some of them don't have a chance, like pulling out of the Northwest Compact that governs waste disposal among Utah and other states or expanding the company's capacity he said.
And there are real political concerns in taking international waste in Utah, as well.
"There are great risks involved — it's just a no-go, I believe," said one GOP leader who asked that his name not be used because his caucus has not yet taken a position on the waste company's offer. "There are both policy and political risks."
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has drawn a line in the sand, saying if such a bill is sent to him he will veto it. His spokesperson Lisa Roskelley said Huntsman would be pleased if the firm's plan dies in the Legislature.
A veto override would take two thirds votes in both the House and Senate for the international hazardous waste firm to get the needed state authorization to bring in Class A low-level nuclear waste from overseas.
Two-thirds is 50 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate. And while Republicans have those majorities (barely), it would take only a few GOP defections for Huntsman's veto to stand up.
"It would take a lot of political capital" from the legislative Republicans, who probably couldn't count on many, if any, Democratic votes. Although House Majority Whip James Gowans, D-Tooele, said he could support the firm's proposal.
"I'm for it. It means jobs and money to my county," said Gowans. "It is nothing more than what they are taking safely out there now."
The firm is already permitted to handle such low-level radioactive waste, like contaminated clothing and materials from U.S. nuclear power plants, hospitals and so on. And such waste has reportedly been dumped in the Clive site from Canada and Mexico, as well, legislative sources said.
EnergySolutions "has an eight-year window before a European site is opened" to handle such low-level nuclear waste. "And (EnergySolution officials) want to make some money before then," said one leader.
And that's fine, he added, the firm does need to make a profit. The question is, does this Legislature want to be the one remembered for "opening the door to all of this."
On the tax increase front, House GOP leaders invited members of their "moderate" caucus (they call themselves the "Reagan Caucus") to meet with leaders Friday. Monday, the leaders will meet with "Conservative Caucus" members.
"Our (53-member, GOP) caucus is split" between the two groups over tax hikes, said one leader.
As reported previously, Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, is proposing that the state sales tax on food — reduced several years ago — be placed back on. He advocates some kind of refund or sales-tax-free card for low-income Utahns, to whom the small tax unprepared food is most harmful, so they wouldn't have to pay the higher sales tax on food. (The tax remains on restaurant and fast food purchases).
The rest of the citizens and visitors were paying the food tax before and can pay it again, moderate Republicans argue.
The state sales tax is now 4.7 percent on most retail purchases. The state tax on unprepared food is 1.75 percent. (Cities, counties and special districts also levy sales tax. In Salt Lake County the total rate is 6.85 percent.)
Putting the food tax back on would raise around $180 million, enough to increase funding in several critical areas, said one leader who is involved in setting the state's budget.
"We're not going to raise taxes next year." In 2010 all 75 House members are up for re-election, as is half of the Senate. Yet it is the 2010 and 2011 budgets that could really be impacted by the current drastic drop in state revenues.
As for other revenue sources, even Senate Democrats acknowledge there may be a need to restore the state's share of sales tax on food. Only three of the eight Senate Democrats said during a Monday caucus that they could not support the measure. Others, like Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said the increase may be a "last resort" in balancing a budget facing severe cuts.
Feb 20, 2009
Salt Lake Tribune
A measure aimed at bolstering the state's production of renewable energy cleared the Legislature on Thursday after twice staving off attempts by conservative lawmakers to include nuclear power as a renewable resource.
"It's amazing to me the same crowd that says the world is coming to an end due to [carbon-dioxide] emissions is the same group that is running away from the one source of energy with zero emissions," Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said during debate Wednesday.
The House, however, rejected Daw's amendment on a voice vote. A similar effort failed in the Senate.
Holladay Democratic Sen. Pat Jones' nonbinding resolution asks the state to craft model ordinances that municipalities can use if they want to develop renewable power.
In addition to the fight over the inclusion of nuclear power, the bill was voted down in the House, but then revived after much of the language, which some members felt was disparaging to the state's coal industry, was stripped out.
The Senate agreed to the House's changes, and Jones said it makes it a better bill. The measure now goes to the governor for his anticipated approval.
Feb 19, 2009
EnergySolutions could rake in $1.5 billion over a decade — with Utah getting half — if it is allowed to accept low-level radioactive waste from foreign countries at its Clive storage facility.
Speaking to the Deseret News editorial board, Steve Creamer, chief executive officer of the Salt Lake-based company, said that his company would share equally all net revenues made through its contracts with foreign nations to manage and store low-level waste in Utah.
He said the proposed plan would use 5 percent of the site's overall capacity, or about 7.5 million cubic feet, for storage of foreign waste. The activities could potentially generate from $750 million to $1.5 billion — money that the company and state would split "that could come into the state to do some pretty special things," Creamer said.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has promised to veto any legislation allowing foreign waste into Utah.
The EnergySolutions facility in Clive, 70 miles west of Salt Lake City, handles more than 95 percent of all commercial low-level radioactive waste in the United States, according to the Government Accountability Office. The company also has processing sites in Tennessee, South Carolina and the United Kingdom.
Creamer said that the proposal would act as a tool to build the company's reputation as a low-level waste manager to other nations around the globe, not to make Utah the world's "nuclear dumping ground."
"We do not, on a long-term basis, want to bring it into Utah," Creamer said. "What we want to do is use 4.3 acres to position ourselves" as a credible resource around the world, he said.
The proposal calls for the company to take in foreign waste over a 10-year period, with the state sharing in 50 percent of the net revenue. And after 10 years, "we'd quit taking international waste," he said.
Creamer said that the company envisions Clive as the prototype for about a half-dozen storage facilities around the world to handle low-level radioactive waste.
It's not clear yet where the proposal is going this legislative session, although there seems to be interest among at least some GOP leaders.
"I'm having a hard time seeing what the problem is," said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville. "The only difference is it comes from another country."
Waddoups said if the state could get $150 million a year from allowing the disposal of "the same product that's out there now," the money would go a long way to solving the state's financial problems.
Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said Wednesday that the governor will veto any effort to allow foreign waste into the state. "Governor Huntsman doesn't want Utah to be the world's dumping ground," she said. "He will veto any legislation that would create that situation."
Waddoups said he's not sure the votes are there in the Senate GOP caucus to override a veto by the governor. "I don't know if I could get it passed, let alone veto-proof," Waddoups said. "If the caucus doesn't want it, we're not going to do it."
Waddoups and other GOP leaders from both the House and Senate discussed the topic briefly with the governor during their weekly lunch Wednesday. Waddoups said Huntsman is standing firm against foreign waste being stored in Utah. "I wish he'd budge," the Senate president said.
Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he wants to know the facts behind the proposal. "If it makes sense, it makes sense," he said. "They've got to convince me."
Legislative leaders say Huntsman recently told them — in answer to a direct question — that he would veto any bill that expanded EnergySolutions' ability to take low-level, or Class A, nuclear waste.
If Huntsman keeps that pledge, it would take 50 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate to override that veto.
One House GOP leader said Wednesday that while there is no official House GOP caucus position on the waste firm's proposal, there is also no great opposition among the 53 House Republicans.
"After all, it is the same kind of waste they are taking now out there" in the West Desert dump. "And they have taken this kind of waste from Canada, we're told, and maybe even from Mexico — although that is not as clear. So what difference does it make if they take some of the same kind of waste from another foreign country? They are taking international waste now," said one House GOP leader.
EnergySolutions in recent years has donated more to political causes than any other corporation or political action committee in the state, making it politically potent.
For example, in 2008, the company reported giving $189,200 to state-level politicians and political parties. Among the groups receiving the most from EnergySolutions last year were the Utah Republican Party, $44,700; the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, $12,500; Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, $10,000; and the Utah Democratic Party, $10,000.
EnergySolutions gave to 73 of the 90 current legislators who faced election last year, spreading $39,850 among them. Among legislators who received the most last year were former Senate President John Valentine, R-Provo, $5,450 (who ran unopposed); Rep. Todd Kiser and former House Speaker Greg Curtis, both R-Sandy, $5,350 each; and Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, who received $5,200.
Contributing: Bob Bernick Jr., Lee Davidson
Feb 19, 2009
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.
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."
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