Utah’s governor has agreed with legislators in deciding that EnergySolutions, the low-level radioactive waste disposal company, needs a $1.7 million break on the state regulatory fees it has been paying.
Gov. Gary Herbert approved HB169 on Wednesday, his office said in a Thursday press release announcing the signing of 44 bills.
Herbert’s office later told The Tribune that “the governor made his decision to sign this legislation on the basis of what was best for the public safety, economic growth and jobs in Tooele County.
“He did this in consultation with public officials in Tooele County, and on the basis of constituent feedback from Tooele County.”
Also in the latest batch of bills, the governor signed HB272, which could end up giving large sections of Utah Lake to developers if they can show creation of island subdivisions would improve the quality of the lake.
“Environmental rehabilitation of Utah Lake has long been an elusive but important goal,” the governor’s office said of the decision by Herbert, a former longtime Utah County commissioner.
“This bill is permissive, rather than mandatory; by signing this bill the governor is not endorsing a particular project, but he does not want to stand in the way of an innovative approach to improve the condition of Utah Lake.”
He also OK’d HB369 to permit Tesla to own and operate car dealerships in the Beehive State — something that has been barred under state law that prohibits automakers from having a direct ownership interest in any new-car dealership.The governor’s office said he saw HB369 as providing “a sensible way to modernize auto sales in Utah.”
Also among the bills Herbert signed was HB181, which would ease government restrictions for small Utah food producers.
HB169 was unusual legislation in that it benefits a single company — EnergySolutions. It was approved by huge margins in the House and Senate, where members are beneficiaries of the company’s generous campaign contributions.
In fact, EnergySolutions was the single largest donor to sitting legislators last year, pouring in more than $67,000 in contributions. A Tribune analysis found that lawmakers who took donations were many times more likely to vote for HB169 than those who did not accept checks from EnergySolutions.
Herbert has continued the policy of his predecessor, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, in refusing to take EnergySolutions donations. (Huntsman once even returned $40,000 in contributions from entrepreneur Steve Creamer when Creamer was in the process of acquiring the company, then called Envirocare.)
An EnergySolutions spokesman previously told The Tribune that it gave donations when they were requested and did not expect anything in return.
The governor must decide the fate of about another 100 bills before the deadline next Wednesday to either sign them, veto them, or allow them to become law without his signature.
At his monthly press conference on Thursday, Herbert said he is considering vetoing some bills that the part-time Legislature passed to give it more power against the full-time governor. He said they unduly interfere with the separation of powers.
He said an example is SB171 that would allow the Legislature to intervene in lawsuits challenging the laws they pass — instead of relying on the attorney general to defend them.
“You can imagine the confusion if you have two different attorneys and they both claim to represent the state,” he said.
Herbert said he is also having a tough time deciding whether to sign HB241, which would limit noncompete clauses in TV contracts that now often prevent employees from working for another competing station for a year after they leave their job.
He said he can argue both sides of that issues — seeing that stations should be able to protect their investment in on-air promotion of anchors and reporters, but that employees should not be prevented from working here if they are laid off or cannot reach agreements on contract renewals.
Editor’s note: Former Gov. Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, publisher and owner of The Salt Lake Tribune.