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
Feb 14, 2009
Salt Lake Tribune
EnergySolutions, the Salt Lake City-based nuclear waste company, is stepping forward with a partial fix for the state's budget problem: foreign radioactive waste.
For weeks, the company has worked quietly with state lawmakers on a proposal to have the state split EnergySolutions' profits from the disposal of foreign waste, profits that could mean as much as $1 billion over a decade.
There's just one obstacle -- but it's a big one.
EnergySolutions hasn't been cleared to take foreign waste at its mile-square disposal site in Tooele County. Changing that would require Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to drop his adamant opposition or the Legislature to override him.
Lawmakers and the company have kept the details a tightly held secret, although the plan was confirmed by several individuals familiar with the discussions.
A company spokeswoman denies that there is any "proposal" or anything "concrete" being pushed in Utah's Capitol. But lucrative payments to the state make up "one idea" the company has been exploring.
"We think there's an opportunity for the governor, the Legislature and EnergySolutions to come together and find a solution to this issue and also to provide a benefit and assistance to the people, the citizens of the state of Utah," said company spokeswoman Jill Sigal. The money, she added, could help struggling public schools, universities and charitable organizations.
The simplest way for this partnership to advance would be to get Huntsman's buy-in. But that could be difficult.
Lisa Roskelley, the governor's spokeswoman, said neither Huntsman nor his staff has had any conversations with the company and neither has been briefed on "the specifics of this proposal."
"The governor is against having the Italian waste come here, or the foreign waste in general," she said. "He believes philosophically that foreign waste should be contained within the country of generation."
House Speaker Dave Clark had little to say when asked about the potential EnergySolutions deal. But he noted many bills will be unveiled in the weeks remaining in the legislative session.
"There are a whole lot of issues out there kind of in that 'Ready, set, not to go' stage," the Santa Clara Republican said.
Sigal said there have been no direct discussions with the governor's office, and said "to our knowledge there is no legislation." Splitting 50 percent of any foreign waste profits with the state, she added, is a topic of discussion within the company and "a few people" outside it.
She said no hotter radioactive waste would be involved. The site would only accept the same low-level Class A waste that it already takes from around the United States -- not more hazardous Class B, Class C or high-level radioactive waste, which is prohibited in the state.
Nor would the site be expanded. Four and three-tenths acres of the mile-square site, roughly 5 percent of the facility's remaining capacity, would be used. And foreign waste would only be accepted for a decade, she said.
But Sigal acknowledged that there's an obstacle.
"In order for us to share 50 percent of our net disposal revenue from internationally generated material, you are right, we would need to dispose of internationally generated material."
EnergySolutions chairman and chief executive officer Steve Creamer told lawmakers in one meeting that the state's share would be $100 million or more a year. That number was confirmed by multiple sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The company had a nearly $9 million loss on revenues of $1.1 billion in 2007, its first full year as a publicly traded company. Its 2008 earnings report is expected Feb. 26 after a year that saw its stock price plummet nearly 80 percent.
EnergySolutions said in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last fall that disposing of foreign waste was crucial to its future.
The company was planning to go public with its proposal next week, after the Legislature on Tuesday gets new revenue estimates that will be the basis for the 2010 budget. Legislators entering the session facing an estimated $450 million shortfall now expect the new projections to be dire.
Whether the promise of additional revenue to ward off threatened deep cuts in public education, social services and other areas will entice the governor to change his position has yet to be seen.
Last year, he wrote to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to say that foreign waste imports are a policy question that should be addressed at a national level. He also objected to EnergySolutions' application to the NRC for an import license to bring about 20,000 tons of low-level waste from Italy, process it in Tennessee and dispose of up to 1,600 tons in Tooele County.
Huntsman also supported the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-level Radioactive Waste in updating the organization's 20-year-old contract with EnergySolutions to say that foreign waste is not permitted in Utah, which is a member of the compact.
Congress set up the compact system more than two decades ago to help the states of Washington, South Carolina and Nevada, which all hosted low-level waste sites. They were tired of getting dumped on by states that were doing nothing to develop disposal of their own.
The federal law encouraged all states to join these "compacts" to regulate the flow of contaminated waste in and out of their regional boundaries.
EnergySolutions argues it is a privately owned and operated site that is not subject to the Northwest Compact's authority. And it filed suit in federal court last spring to get a judge's ruling to affirm that position.
The company and the compact are scheduled to appear Feb. 26 before U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart to make oral arguments in the case. The state -- at Huntsman's direction -- has sided with the compact in the case.
Those familiar with the company's proposal on Utah's Capitol Hill say EnergySolutions is confident that it will win the case. And a decision could come from the bench the day of the oral arguments.
But if Stewart rules against the company, or a decision in EnergySolutions' favor is appealed, there is one alternative still available for clearing the way for foreign waste imports. The Legislature before it adjourns March 12 could pass a bill to withdraw the state from the compact altogether.
Feb 13, 2009
Washington » Congressional negotiators have cut a $50 billion provision for low-carbon energy producers pushed by Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, in the giant stimulus package.
The funding, which critics contended was aimed to "bail out" the nuclear industry, was chopped from the bill as members of the House and Senate met to whittle down the measure to under $800 billion.
The environmental group Friends of the Earth started running advertisements slamming Bennett on cable news stations in Utah after he inserted the $50 billion into the stimulus bill in a Senate committee. The funding was aimed at innovative, low-carbon producing energy technology, though green groups said the money would end up producing new nuclear power plants.
Bennett decried the characterization of the environmental groups, saying the funding would go to other alternative energy options, such as solar, wind and geothermal.
On Thursday, Bennett said the funding was lost because of the group's political attacks.
"The interesting thing to me was that the only opposition that erupted publicly was that I had somehow gone into the tank with the nuclear industry, and the whole purpose of trying to get this loan guarantee was because I wanted major new nuclear plants," Bennett said, "and under no circumstances could we do that."
Environmental groups hailed the decision to cut the funding.
"This is a huge win for our planet and for taxpayers who want stimulus funds to be invested wisely," said Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder. "The bailout in question would have thrilled nuclear industry lobbyists but done virtually nothing to stimulate the economy."
Bennett opposed the overall stimulus bill in Senate votes.
Feb 11, 2009
The battle over nuclear power in Utah is heating up. A company has purchased land near Green River where it hopes to build the state's first nuclear plant, but opponents are taking their fight against it to Capitol Hill.
There have been fights over nuclear waste for years, but a nuclear power plant has never been built in Utah. Transition Power Development aims to change that.
Anti-nuclear advocates who fought the storage of radioactive waste in Utah are turning their energies to the company's proposed plant. They're pushing legislation to make sure, even before a plant is built, that nuclear power is affordable and that there's a disposal option for the waste.
"We think it's reasonable to ask for electricity that's cost-effective and for a place to put the waste from that nuclear reactor. You don't build a house without planning out a septic system. We shouldn't do this for high-level nuclear waste," said Vanessa Pierce, executive director of HEAL Utah.
A representative of Transition Power Development, Aaron Tilton, fired back today, saying, "They're just trying to grandstand." He says the bills will go nowhere and, because there currently is nowhere in the United States to store spent fuel, the legislation "would effectively ban nuclear power" in Utah.
Meanwhile, the Democrat sponsoring the legislation expressed frustration, saying the GOP majority is keeping his bill bottled up with no hearing.
"Let's get this bill out now. Let's get it set for a hearing, and let's really get these issues out into the open where we can discuss them and have the public weigh in and have a full and frank discussion," said Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City.
The bill is currently stuck in the rules committee. That committee's chair says she supports nuclear power as "clean and safe." She says though she supports "nuclear-friendly legislation," she's "willing to look at it."
One big question is cost. Opponents say it's prohibitively expensive -- billions of dollars -- to build a new nuclear plant. Proponents say those estimates are greatly exaggerated.
Video Courtesy of KSL.com
Feb 11, 2009
The Salt Lake Tribune
Nuclear power's skeptics and supporters are advancing measures in the Utah Legislature.
Rep. Jay Seegmiller, D-Sandy, introduced his "nuclear responsibility" bill. HB440 is aimed at ensuring reactors built in Utah have disposal available for high-level nuclear waste and that the Public Service Commission sees to it that Utahns don't end up footing the liabilities for energy that benefits only out-of-staters.
"I don't know if generating power for another state is a perfect way for us to use our water," Seegmiller said.
A similar bill, SB42 by Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, has been sidelined in the Senate Rules Committee.
Meanwhile, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, has offered a joint resolution, SJR16, urging support of nuclear power. He says nuclear power would mean jobs for southeastern Utah, especially as Congress looks at climate-change bills that threaten the coal industry.
Hinkins' measure emerges days after proponents of a uranium mill and Utah's first nuclear-power plant signed up to occupy a new industrial park near Green River.
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