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John Daley ReportingCitizen advocacy groups in Utah are calling on Congressman Rob Bishop to pull the plug, on a provision he helped get added to the House energy bill. It would open the door, to 30-million pounds of highly concentrated radioactive waste being stored in Utah's West Desert.
Representative Rob Bishop used to work on Utah's Capitol Hill for the company Envirocare. Now his former employer stands to be the prime Utah beneficiary of a change in federal law Bishop has been pushing for back in Washington.
Envirocare stores radioactive waste, until now just of the low-level variety. But there's a high demand as well for the storage of other wastes, which some call more dangerous. In July Utah Congressman Rob Bishop sent a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee urging it to include in the energy bill language that makes it possible for tailings rich in radium from an Ohio cleanup site to be stored at Envirocare. He says, thanks to tax revenues for the state, the wording change is a "win-win" for Utah.
Rep. Rob Bishop, (R) Utah: "As I understood it, there is a level that is hotter than that, that they can accept. This is not hotter that stuff already out there. I may be wrong on that, you'll have to check with Envirocare."
But radioactive waste watchdogs say Bishop's move simply opens the door to the state taking even more of the nation's waste.
Jason Groenwald, Healthy Alliance for Utah: "The waste that they want bring here is 25 times hotter than Envirocare's permit currently allows them to take."
Not so says an Envirocare official Ken Alkema who maintains the material, which would come in large concrete containers, can be safely shipped and stored.
Ken Alkema, Envirocare VP of Compliance: "We already take waste that's ten times hotter-- I hate to use that word because it's not scientific-- than what this material is."
Watchdogs are also raising questions about a blatant conflict of interest because Bishop, a former Utah House Speaker, in the later 90s worked as a lobbyist for Envirocare and also received over 76-hundred dollars in contributions for his 2002 campaign from the company.
Chip Ward, Author, Canaries on the Rim: "Mr. Bishop needs to make the transition from being a lobbyist for special interests to being the people's representative."
When we asked about it, Bishop told KSL, "The real answer is you've got to be kidding on these types of questions. The good answer is simply this: the reality is that I’ll work for any Utah company or any Utah group, if it benefits a company in Utah or a group or association regardless."
In the past Governor Mike Leavitt has been opposed to the storage of hotter forms of radioactive waste here in Utah. His spokeswoman today said he still stands by that position. The state has no jurisdiction over this waste. It could regulate the transportation of waste shipments, but the waste itself is technically controlled by federal regulators.