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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An embattled Utah congressman embroiled in a controversy over ties to a nuclear disposal site has denied any financial backing from the company, and hinted that racism may be at play in some people's criticism of Envirocare.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, bristles at environmentalists' suggestion that Envirocare, a company that hired him six years ago as a statehouse lobbyist, bought his help in Congress.
"They fired me three years ago. I have no stock in the company and don't receive money from them," he said.
Bishop backs an amendment to the energy bill that would allow commercial waste companies -- such as Envirocare -- to take uranium mill tailings now stored at the Energy Department's former Fernald plant in Ohio.
Without a reclassification of the concentrated radioactive waste, it would have to be shipped to the Nevada Test Site.
Bishop, whose district includes the Envirocare site, said it would be cheaper and safer for a commercial company to take it by rail rather than have it trucked to Nevada.
When Utah environmentalists found out they blasted Bishop, and linked his support to his lobbying days and more than $7,000 in political contributions he received from Envirocare employees.
"There's no chain of money," Bishop said just days after a town hall meeting at which opponents shouted, interrupted him and called for his resignation. "I'm not firmly tied to Envirocare or anybody else."
Bishop said he believes there's an element of racism in the distrust surrounding Envirocare. The company's founder, Khosrow Semnani, is a Muslim who was born in Iran.
"He came here as a refugee and worked his way up from a janitor," Bishop said. "I think some people think he should still be a janitor."
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, on Tuesday asked congressional leaders to remove the provision from the energy bill.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)