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Budget woes in Tooele County lead to hazmat cuts

Safety » Activist calls changes “alarming,” but officials say response capability won’t be harmed.

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Some question whether savings in the hazmat division will be worthwhile in the long run and whether businesses storing radioactive material shouldn’t shoulder some blame for the county’s budget problems.

Thomas, of HEAL Utah, cited a September audit from the state Legislative Auditor General’s Office that recommended a change in Utah’s radioactive waste facility tax. The audit said EnergySolution’s ownership of a waste-processing facility in Tennessee meant the company could reduce the amount of waste that otherwise would be destined for Utah, allowing it to manipulate how much revenue it reports for tax purposes.

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That process, although legal, essentially allowed the company to pay fewer state taxes, the audit states.The audit suggests basing the tax on volume of waste rather than revenue.

Although the audit doesn’t address how this would affect the fees paid separately to Tooele County, Thomas believes EnergySolutions also has "shortchanged" the county, since the mitigation fees, like the state tax, are based on revenue.

"That underpayment of taxes is now leading to the elimination of critical emergency-response capabilities that protect not only Tooele residents but the entire state," Thomas said. "It’s a travesty."

EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker dismissed the criticism, saying the decision to use the Tennessee facility had more to do with the needs of customers than a desire to avoid taxes.

Walker said mitigation fees have declined because the amount of waste has gone down. Walker said critics who blame the lower revenue on revenue manipulation should simply look at the amount of waste accepted at the Clive facility.

Walker said in 2008, the storage site took in 8 million cubic feet of waste. So far this year, it’s only 3 million cubic feet.

"Obviously, when that happens, there just isn’t as much waste to be taxed," he said.

Charles Judd, the former president of EnergySolutions (when it was known as EnviroCare), said anyone doing business in Tooele County should be concerned about diminishing county resources for hazmat. Judd is now the president of Cedar Mountain Environmental, a radioactive transport company considering opening a facility in the county.

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Judd said he was part of the original negotiations with Tooele County that created the 5 percent fee in 1990s. The point of the original plan was that if the company made more money, so did the county. Because EnergySolutions can process the waste before shipping it to its own storage facility, the company makes more money but pays fewer taxes, he said.

"This approach is not the idea," Judd said. "There’s no doubt that Tooele County needs to do something to adjust [the fee structure] so they’re getting a fair share," he said, adding that he supports a structure based on waste amount instead of revenue.

While EnergySolutions has on-site emergency responders, the county should be ready to lend a hand, he said.

"[EnergySolutions is] a safe operation as far as I can tell, but when you’re bringing in that volume of waste … it’s just nice to have something there to help," Judd said.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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