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Who's in charge?

Published September 13, 2012 1:01 am

Regulators, waste firm too friendly
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Senate President Mike Waddoups is angry over an audit of state regulators who should be, but apparently aren't, protecting Utahns from illegal nuclear waste. His rage is justified.

Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, rightly demanded better accountability from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and its director, Amanda Smith, and threatened a move to eliminate the agency and radiation-control officers along with it.

But the strongest message that should be inferred from the Legislative Auditor General Office's report criticizing a too-close relationship between EnergySolutions and the DEQ is that Gov. Gary Herbert never should have nominated an executive of the largest nuclear-waste company to the state's new Radiation Control Board. Legislators should not confirm Dan Shrum's nomination.

The auditors found that the DEQ and state Division of Radiation Control are relying on EnergySolutions' word about what the company is storing at its site in Tooele and that 37 containers of hotter waste than Utah allows were shipped here in recent years. It chided regulators for allowing 23 of those containers, including 17 with illegal Class C waste, to remain at the storage site. The fine for the hotter waste was $5,000 or less per violation, barely a slap on the wrist.

Putting the EnergySolutions' regulatory compliance officer on a board that will review such actions amounts to giving him a key to the gate designed to keep hotter waste out.

Applications, appeals and technical reviews of EnergySolutions plans and proposals go before the board every year. Should any other company attempt to compete for low-level nuclear waste in Utah, advocates for that company would face an executive of their largest competitor when they come before the RCB.

The auditors reported that Utah's lax oversight makes it impossible to know whether EnergySolutions is accepting B and C waste, which is hotter than A waste and has been prohibited in Utah for seven years. Seating an employee of the company on the control board would only make an already unacceptable situation worse.

It's also troubling that House Speaker Becky Lockhart, who co-chairs the legislative audit panel with Waddoups, has received into PACs she controls more than $11,000 from EnergySolutions. Small wonder Lockhart had little to say as Waddoups fumed.

The audit should wake up Herbert to the improper and dangerous relationship between his agencies and EnergySolutions. He should listen to Waddoups.