Legislators Want Review of Environmental Quality Agency

Legislators Want Review of Environmental Quality Agency

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Members of a legislative task force want an independent review of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality so they can understand how state regulators decide what kinds of waste should be allowed into Utah.

The Hazardous Waste Regulation and Tax Policy Task Force met Tuesday to finalize recommendations to the 2004 Legislature. After a five-hour meeting, the task force took its recommendations to the Executive Appropriations Committee, which had no comment.

"I have not seen any indication (DEQ) is not doing its job," said Rep. David Hogue, R-Riverton. "But it's important to get someone outside the box."

In general, task force members expressed approval of DEQ, but agreed with Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, that it's time for an independent review of the department, which hasn't happened since 1992.

The review would be done by an outside expert who would review DEQ's oversight and monitoring program and report back to the task force by May 1.

The leader of an environmental activist group disagreed with lawmakers who said DEQ was doing a good job.

"Congratulating the group that effectively allowed the state to be turned into the bargain basement dumping ground is astonishing," said Jason Groenewold of Families Against Incinerator Risk.

The task force, composed of nine House members and seven senators, spent much of this year touring waste facilities and gathering data. Formed by the 2003 Legislature, the task force is charged with a two-year study to examine all types of wastes that end up in Utah and how the state regulates and taxes them.

The task force was prompted in part by Envirocare's proposal to expand its business by disposing of so-called Class B and C radioactive wastes, which are primarily the byproducts of decommissioned nuclear power plants. The company has received state regulatory approval but still needs formal approval from the Legislature and the governor to move ahead.

The task force recommended the 2004 Legislature to roll back the tax and fee hikes on hazardous waste facilities, and voted unanimously to amend a bill that increased the hazardous waste fees from $14 a ton to $28 a ton and also imposed the 3 percent gross receipts tax, which would have generated an additional $300,000 a year. The bill hiked fees on radioactive waste disposed at Envirocare, but the task force left those hikes intact.

The task force also wants to require the governor and Legislature to approve any proposals to store waste that has radioactivity in excess of the state and federal licenses.

That bill, by Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, took aim at uranium mill tailings from Fernald, Ohio, that the U.S. Department of Energy's cleanup contractor wanted to send to Envirocare. However, Envirocare announced Tuesday it would drop its application to receive those tailings.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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