Senate postpones vote after group questions appointment of EnergySolutions executive
SALT LAKE CITY — Anti-nuclear critics of EnergySolutions say having one of the company's corporate executives sit on Utah's board that regulates radioactive waste is akin to having the fox guarding the hen house.
The concerns voiced by HEAL Utah were enough to at least temporarily delay the appointment of Dan Shrum to the Utah Radiation Control Board.
His name, as well as the nomination of Sarah Fields, did not come up for a vote before the full Senate Wednesday. Instead, the nominees will be reviewed by a Senate confirmation committee in the next several weeks.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, chairman of that Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Nominating Committee, said initially there were no concerns about the two nominees but that changed later on during the day.
"In the interest of openness and transparency, we thought we should hold a hearing," he said.
If Shrum's consideration to the board was going to be subject to delayed action, Okerlund said it was only fair to conduct a similar inquiry into Fields, who is an outspoken critic of nuclear power or associated waste industries.
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, said he was contacted by HEAL Utah last week while he was out of town at a national legislative meeting and forwarded those concerns to colleagues Wednesday, prompting the additional review of the two candidates.
"I believe the appointments meet the letter of the law, but if there is any controversy, we should listen to those concerns," he said, adding that it is better to air potential ramifications in an open meeting rather than push the nominations forward.
HEAL Utah praised the delay.
“We appreciate the Senate concluding they should take a close look at this nomination, said Matt Pacenza, the group's policy director. “Next month’s hearing will be a critical opportunity for scrutinizing the conflicts of interest presented by appointing a company to regulate itself.”
The group delivered a petition with 1,600 signatures on Capitol Hill Wednesday, urging an all-out rejection of Shrum's nomination to the nine-member board. Pacenza said Shrum becoming a sitting board member will present an "unwieldy mess" that presents a slew of conflict-of-interest issues.
"For one of the members of the board to have a vested interest in the outcome of the decisions is troubling," Pacenza said. "He has a dog in the fight, a horse in the race. … (Utah Gov. Gary) Herbert needs to realize this is a dreadful choice."
Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said Shrum's nomination to the board is not an unusual departure since every regulatory board within the purview of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality has industry representatives from the regulated industry.
"EnergySolutions is no different," she said. "The board responsible for DEQ rulemaking consists of people from all sectors of the community, including the regulated community. Please note that there is also representation from health and the environment."
Isom also pointed out that the board nominees include Fields, of the anti-radiation group Uranium Watch.
But Pacenza noted that if Shrum's nomination goes forward, it will be the first time in the company's history as EnergySolutions that an employee has had membership on the board tasked with regulating its activities.
"Much of what this board does is regulate and make policy that applies to EnergySolutions," he said.
Okerlund, a Republican from Monroe in Sevier County, said earlier Wednesday that he personally did not believe having Shrum named to the board represents a conflict of interest, given the number of others who will sit on the board.
"I think there are enough checks and balances, enough representatives from other areas of the community, including advocacy groups, that will allow the committee to do a good job," he said. He did add that pulling both names late in the morning before the full Senate vote will give lawmakers on the confirmation committee a chance to be sure make sure nominees can remain objective.
Rusty Lundberg, director of the state Division of Radiation Control, said that while EnergySolutions does have high-profile public issues come before the board, the majority of its work involves other matters not impacting the company, which operates a radioactive waste disposal site in Clive, Tooele County.
Rules related to regulatory boards and whether members have to declare a conflict of interest or recuse themselves from a vote are under consideration and up for a decision later this month.
As it stands, Utah Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Amanda Smith is reviewing those pending rules and will make a decision.