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Radioactive choice

Published August 17, 2012 1:01 am

Senate right to delay confirmation
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Given that the decisions to be made will have an impact on Utah for thousands of years to come, waiting a month to vote on the makeup of the state's new Radiation Control Board seems reasonable.

The chairman of the state Senate committee in charge of the matter was right Wednesday to put a hold on two of Gov. Gary Herbert's nominations to the reconstituted board. The other six nominees were approved by the Senate, but Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, rightly decided that his panel should take a longer look at two candidates who, arguably, would be better cast as advocates who appear before the board rather than as members of the review panel.

The nominees to receive more scrutiny are Sarah Fields, of the Moab public advocacy group Uranium Watch, and Dan Shrum, regulatory compliance officer for EnergySolutions, the company that owns the Tooele County landfill that is the source of much of the business and most of the controversy that is likely to come before the board.

Of the two, Shrum is clearly the more troublesome choice. His expertise is unquestioned. But having an executive of EnergySolutions sit on the state board that exists to oversee that company's technically complex operations smacks of conflict of interest on many levels.

Applications, appeals and technical reviews of EnergySolutions plans and proposals comprise the main course on the board's menu every year. Not only that, but, should any other company attempt to construct a competing storage facility for low-level nuclear waste anywhere in Utah, advocates for that company will be facing an executive of their largest competitor whenever they come before the RCB.

Unless, of course, Shrum recuses himself from debates and abstains from votes whenever his company, or a rival, has business before the board. In which case, he will be in recusal so much of the time that his uncontested expertise in the subject will seldom, if ever, be tapped.

The law that rearranged the RCB, last session's SB21, commands that the board include one industry representative. Herbert's office argues that EnergySolutions deserves that seat, and that Shrum is the only industry representative who applied for the slot. But the law that created the previous version of the board also allotted a slot to an industry representative, and past governors were able to find qualified people from other, smaller companies where the conflict of interest potential was not nearly so great.

The Senate was right to hesitate on this matter. Herbert should take advantage of the pause to find a better candidate.