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Radioactive Waste Company Behind Fee-Waiver Bill Is A Big Campaign Contributor

Taxpayers would wind up paying inspection costs for the EnergySolutions low-level radioactive waste landfill in Tooele County. The company is also a generous donor to state political campaigns.

Utah lawmakers seem ready to waive the fee for inspecting EnergySolutions radioactive landfill. Abill to do that — at the top of the list of legislation that Senators could vote on this week — would have taxpayers covering inspection fees for one of the state’s most generous campaign donors, EnergySolutions.

The company has operated the nation’s busiest disposal site for low-level waste for nearly 30 years. It’s also been busy politically.

EnergySolutions has donated more than any other business organization in the past decade except the Utah Realtors Association. It’s given Utah candidates and party committees a total of nearly $1.2 million.

But legislators aren’t talking about campaign donations when they talk about EnergySolutions these days. 

“It’s a real star,” said Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, who’s just one of the lawmakers who’s been praising EnergySolutions in the Utah Legislature this year.

He’s also one of the politicians who’s received some of the 887 contributions EnergySolutions has sprinkled into state elections since 2008.

The tally comes from the web site, which tracks money in politics.

“I mean, EnergySolutions is a great operator,” said Rep. Stephen Handy, R- Layton, during the bill’s committee hearing in the first days of the 2018 General Session.

“I’ve been out there. A lot of us have been out there, and it’s just unfortunate misunderstanding of this term, you know, ‘radioactive’ waste, what that means. And it just gets, you know, really, really, really confusing.”

Handy’s right that low-level waste shouldn’t be confused with fatally radioactive waste, like high-level spent fuel rods.

But waste at EnergySolutions is hazardous enough that nuclear agencies require it to be tracked from cradle-to-grave and beyond. It generally costs the state just under $2 million a year to inspect the mile-square landfill. All or part of that fee would be waived by legislation that’s already passed the House. But statements from lawmakers so far haven’t mentioned that long-term risk and liability.

“Type A, low-radiation, low-level waste,” said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, on the House floor. “I would hope that we would support this.”

Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, is one of EnergySolutions’ biggest fans. The company’s big disposal site is located in the Hazardous Waste Zone near his district, and taxes it pays means revenue for state and local government.

“I rise in support of the bill,” he said on the House floor. “I’d like to explain why: From my estimation, EnergySolutions has been an exceptional corporate citizen.”

Sagers has described EnergySolutions as the victim — because it’s paying too much for what it gets from the state.

And, when the state Senate takes up the EnergySolutions bill, so will praise for the big campaign donor.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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