Paul Van Dam, the Democratic candidate for state attorney general, believes a recent agreement to lower telephone rates is an "atrocity" that will ultimately cost taxpayers.Van Dam said Utah Attorney General David Wilkinson should not have allowed state attorneys to agree to the deal.

"I'd like to ask the attorney general if he knows of this and if he supports the signing of it," Van Dam said during a sparsely attended news conference Wednesday.

Wilkinson was campaigning in southern Utah and was unavailable for comment.

The agreement negotiated between US WEST and the state Division of Public Utilities and Committee of Consumer Services, lowers telephone rates $20 million, or 11 percent.

But Van Dam is upset about a part of the agreement that allows the phone company to keep 50 percent of what it earns over the maximum return allowed. The other 50 percent would be returned to telephone customers.

The agreement also forbids the state from challenging the rates or the company's profits until June 1, 1991.

The agreement was negotiated after state regulators found US WEST was earning more than allowed. The state regulates the phone company because it is a monopoly.

"This is an absolute atrocity," Van Dam said. "It's a giveaway. I don't think Mr. Wilkinson pays much attention to what's going on right now."

The Public Service Commission has scheduled a public hearing Sept. 15 on the proposed agreement.