SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Jon Huntsman has hired a high-powered Washington lobbying firm to replace Utah's former District of Columbia office in fighting hotter nuclear waste storage.
When Huntsman took office in January, he closed the state's longtime extension in the nation's capitol, saying he could handle some of the work himself and wanted to save money. In March, the governor's office requested proposals from lobbying firms interested in representing the state -- one for public lands and water rights issues, another for transportation and a third for companies that focus on high-level nuclear waste. Dutko Worldwide is the first firm to be hired.
The company, listed by Political Moneyline as the sixth-largest firm in the nation's capital for the first half of 2004, will work on the proposed high-level nuclear waste storage site on the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes reservation 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
Utah joins a list of about 140 current Dutko clients, from Harley Davidson to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Dutko lobbyist Bill Simmons, an ex-staffer for former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, says the firm and its 57 lobbyists are uniquely positioned to represent Utah's interests.
"We have unique expertise nobody else has," Simmons said, noting he was in Hansen's meeting with Goshute representatives when they first pitched the idea of a radioactive waste landfill on their Tooele County reservation in the early 1990s.
Dutko represents Vermont, North Dakota, Los Angeles County, the Western Governors Association and the Western Governors University. Many of its lobbyists are former congressional staffers.
By number of clients, nuclear and energy issues are ranked fourth among Dutko's lobbying issues by the Center for Public Integrity.
"We determined the nuclear issues had the most immediate need," said Tammy Kikuchi, Huntsman's spokeswoman. "As the other issues become hot, we'll go ahead and select a lobbyist for those."
In an open-ended contract, Dutko will be paid $7,500 a month -- $90,000 annually -- plus preapproved expenses, which Simmons expects to be minimal.
Environmental activist Jason Groenewold is waiting to see how Dutko does with the complex job.
"The nuclear industry has been working the halls of Congress for a long time," he said. "It's imperative that we have people in Washington working on Utah's behalf. At this point, we need someone full-time. We're under the gun."
Huntsman's decision to close the Washington office earlier this year was controversial. For more than 20 years, Utah had an office in the nation's capital. The Washington office space and two staff salaries cost the state $230,000 a year.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)