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Rolly: What if Harry Reid had seen the real Mike Lee in 2005?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's a good thing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn't realize what a nut Mike Lee is eight years ago. If he had we might be watching nuclear waste rolling through Utah on a regular basis on its way to a dump on the Goshute Reservation 45 miles west of Salt Lake City.

At that time, Utah's junior senator was chief counsel to then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who was trying mightily to thwart a plan by a coalition of utilities to haul waste from nuclear power plants around the country to Utah's Skull Valley by rail where it would be temporarily stored until the Yucca Mountain depository was completed in Nevada.

The utilities already had been granted a license to store 44,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste. Utah officials were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the plan, but it wasn't clear they had the clout to stop it.

Huntsman, along with then-Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Rob Bishop, put together a creative plan to stop delivery of the waste by creating a federally protected wilderness area in western Utah that would prevent the use of a rail line into the valley of the Goshutes.

The plan was based on an earlier scheme by former Rep. Jim Hansen that failed to win congressional approval.

This time, in order to succeed, the Utahns needed the support of Sen. Reid of Nevada, the most powerful Democrat in the Senate.

Reid had a tenuous relationship with Utah's two Republican senators because they earlier had supported making Yucca Mountain the permanent site for the nation's radioactive waste.

With the diplomacy of Huntsman and Bishop guiding the way, Bennett did a mea culpa to Reid. He said he had made a mistake by supporting Yucca Mountain and now would oppose it. Reid responded by jumping on board for the Cedar Mountain wilderness proposal in western Utah.

The story provides all sorts of ironies based on what is occurring politically today.

Lee, as Huntsman's chief counsel, was deeply involved in the negotiations with Reid. In fact, when I learned what was going on early in the process, it was Lee who asked me to sit on the story because the whole deal might blow up if it were reported prematurely.

Lee was concerned that the leak would offend Reid, who was being intensely courted by the Utahns.

Now, of course, Lee is the freshman senator threatening to shut down the government if the Democrats don't go along with his demand to strip funding from Obamacare. As he goes through the machinations of his little tantrum, he throws insults at Reid as the evildoer who wants to destroy America, because politicians like Lee always need targets to complete their diatribes.

For Reid's part, you can see the disgust on his face when he purses his lips to utter the words, "Senator Lee."

And Bennett, the guy who was key to the deal that favored both Utah and Nevada, was defeated three years ago by Lee because Bennett was seen by the tea party crowd as too conciliatory.

Huntsman, another hero in the episode of Yucca Mountain and Skull Valley eight years ago, has moved away from the Republican Party because he has said it is too uncompromising.

Two of the most uncompromising members of the current Congress are Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who was Huntsman's chief of staff at the time.

prolly@sltrib.com

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