House OKs more money to remove Moab tailings, build CUP
Washington • The House this week added more money to remove radioactive tailings on the banks of the Colorado River near Moab and some funds to continue building the water pipelines for the Central Utah Project but much less than officials were hoping for.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, pushed through a $4.22 million bump to the cleanup of the uranium mining tailings over what President Barack Obama had suggested in his budget. The extra funds, if ultimately approved, would allow the radioactive material removal to continue year-round.
"I'm a fiscal hawk but we need to clean up that mess in Moab," said Chaffetz, who began representing Grand County in January following a redrawing of the congressional districts. "I assured voters this is a priority. I've been working closely with the committee and I'm thrilled that they've seen fit to increase money for the cleanup of the Moab tailings."
Last year, Congress appropriated $30 million for the cleanup, an amount that kept work going for nine months. The House-passed bill offers $40 million.
A mountain of uranium-processing waste, about six million tons, has been shipped to a special landfill about 30 miles north of Moab, but another 10 million tons remain; the project could take until 2018 to complete.
Lynn Jackson, the vice chairman of the Grand County Council, says the extra funds will help, especially so that workers don't have to expect unemployment for part of the year.
"It solves two problems: the short-term employment problem," he said. "And two, to get those things out of there and store them where they should be."
Funding isn't certain.
The Senate is still working on its water budget legislation and the White House has threatened to veto the House measure because officials believe it shorts "critical investments."
The overall bill is significantly smaller than what the president asked for and what is in current law.
CUP fight • White House advisers specifically called out the Central Utah Project as part of the veto threat, noting that the legislation doesn't, as the president requested, move the effort under the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation. The Eisenhower-era CUP meant to move water from the Colorado River system to growing communities on the Wasatch Front was moved away from that agency in 1992 after complaints it was slow-walking the project.
The White House said moving CUP back under reclamation would consolidate administrative and budget tasks while "not adversely affecting project performance."
The House this week declined to go along with the change.
But lawmakers did add more money to the project than Obama had asked for. The president's budget called for spending $3.5 million for CUP when the project had received $25.4 million the year prior.
The House appropriated $8.72 million for CUP.
"It's so much better than zero or $3.5 million," says Christine Finlinson, government affairs director for the CUP. "We're grateful for what we can get. We still have so much project left to build that, of course, we are scrambling to get done what we can."
Finlinson and other CUP officials have argued that working as a stand-alone project has helped them run efficiently and keep construction on schedule.
"What we have been able to achieve with the dollars we have received is quite phenomenal," she said, noting the CUP will continue to push for more funding.
Other projects • Meanwhile, the House passed two Utah-centric measures on Wednesday that will now head to the president for his signature.
The first would allow a hydropower station to be built on part of the CUP project on the Diamond Fork System that could generate some 50 megawatts of clean, renewable power and raise $4 million in federal revenue in the first decade of operation.
The second, the South Valley Electric Conveyance Act, would direct the Interior secretary to hand over ownership of an electrical system in Utah. The South Utah Valley Electric Service District would then be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the system.
"These two bills will give Utahns more of a say over the resources and entities affecting our state," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a sponsor of the measures in the Senate.