Governor to fight toxic gas shipment
WASHINGTON - Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. vowed Thursday to stop any effort to ship mustard gas from Pueblo, Colo., to Utah for destruction, a plan being studied by the Pentagon.
"There is no way this governor will ever support transporting such toxic chemical weapons into Utah," Huntsman said in a statement. "We will utilize all means to prevent any quantity of mustard gas from moving into the State of Utah."
It was Huntsman's strongest statement to date on the Defense Department's decision to begin a $150,000 study on whether to move the World War II-era chemical weapons from Pueblo to Tooele.
Members of Utah's congressional delegation also lined up to block the potential relocation of the mustard gas.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, agreed Thursday to co-sponsor legislation introduced a day earlier by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., that would prohibit the Pentagon from even considering shipping chemical weapons from the depots where they are now stored.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday opposing any relocation effort, saying moving the waste across state lines would violate the law and studies have already determined the weapons should be destroyed in Pueblo.
"Defense short-term budgetary considerations should not be more important than the safety of our citizens and complying with federal law," Matheson wrote.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop have not taken a position on whether the weapons should be moved or not.
Huntsman's chief of staff, Jason Chaffetz, said the governor is prepared to use every tool at his disposal to prevent the chemical weapons from coming to Utah.
"I made a campaign pledge to keep Utah from becoming a dumping ground for such potentially dangerous materials. And I don't intend to back down from that position now," Huntsman said in a statement.
The state has some leverage in the operation of the Tooele incinerator, since the Department of Environmental Quality issues permits and monitors operations at the facility.
In a memo last month, Michael Wynne, acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, ordered the Army to study the prospect of moving chemical weapons so the military could slash the costs of the project but still meet a 2012 disposal deadline set by an international treaty.
Allard was assured by the Army that no study was under way, but the next day the Army Chemical Materials Agency issued a news release announcing it had been directed to study whether weapons should be moved, angering Allard and others.
"This will not happen so long as I am a U.S. senator," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "Moving 60-year-old stockpiles of leaking mustard agent is not a solution to a budget problem, it is a recipe for disaster."
The strategy would involve shipping the chemical agents, most likely by rail, from stockpile locations in Pueblo and Richmond, Ky., to places where weapons destruction is under way, like Tooele.
Federal law currently prohibits transporting the weapons and prior studies have found that shipping the weapons poses an unacceptable risk.