TUESDAY November 18, 2003

Bennett sides with Walker on waste

PHOTO
Bennett

By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune


    U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett said Monday he was aligned with Gov. Olene Walker in opposing the disposal of "hotter" nuclear waste in Utah.
    The Utah Republican said news reports had left a misimpression that the two are "on different sides" of a growing controversy over whether cleanup waste from Ohio and New York should be allowed to go a Tooele County landfill.
    "I am very comfortable we are on the same page," Bennett said in a Salt Lake Tribune editorial board meeting. "I didn't come out and say it in exactly those words, but that's where I am and that's where I want you to put me down."
    Bennett has stressed the importance of disposing of radioactive waste safely, and in recent years pushed for federal regulatory changes that would allow more radioactive waste to be disposed of at Envirocare of Utah, a privately owned landfill in Tooele County.
    The new governor has vowed to block more concentrated waste that may come to Utah thanks to wording in the energy and water spending bill now pending in Congress. Bennett helped develop that measure, but claims he was not aware of the specific provision that would reclassify the Ohio and New York waste to allow its disposal at Envirocare.
    Bennett's remarks came as the hot-waste issue was heating up in the Utah Capitol and on the streets.
Related
Hanson and Burbidge petition (PDF)

    Salt Lake City residents Gloria Hanson and Sue Burbidge spent Monday morning outside a post office and a grocery store asking passers-by to sign their petition opposing the waste provision in the spending bill.
    "We are very against this," said Hanson, like Burbidge a newcomer to petition politics. "We think it was done in an underhanded way."
    "That just seemed unfair to us," added Burbidge. "I have children and grandchildren here, and I just don't want to leave them a legacy of toxic waste in their back yards."
    The two self-proclaimed "ordinary people" estimated more than nine of every 10 individuals they approached signed their petition. That gave them 324 additional names of opponents to send to Utah Republicans in Congress and to Walker.
    Neither expected their petitions would accomplish their goal of defeating the bill when it comes to congressional votes this week. Said Burbidge: "It seems like it's already done."
    At the state Capitol, lawmakers were preparing for a meeting today of the state's hazardous and radioactive waste task force, which listed the New York and Ohio waste as an agenda item.
    The legislative task force, halfway through a 21-month study of the state's policies and taxes on Utah's waste industry, invited officials from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to brief them on the congressional legislation.
    Task force co-chairman Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, has proposed legislation to require plans for the Ohio and New York waste to get the same political approvals -- from the governor and the Legislature -- that are necessary for other new disposal programs.
    Under current law, the Energy Department waste would not require any state approvals because the waste is slated to go in a section of Envirocare that is under federal control. The state, however, is seeking that regulatory authority.
    Bennett said he was looking for a way to stop the Energy Department plan for the waste. But he noted that Utah has had a policy of accepting radioactive waste ever since it gave Envirocare its license 15 years ago.
    The senator said recent developments in the state's culture have led to an attitude opposing radioactive waste regardless of its hazard level and that the economic benefits of not having a big waste industry are greater.
    "We want to be known as the state that had the Olympics, rather than the state that takes nuclear waste," Bennett said.
   fahys@sltrib.com
   
   



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