Legislators over the next two months will tackle at least three new bills on environmental protection, and possibly as many as five.
The topics include funding hazardous waste cleanup projects, increasing fees for disposal of dangerous materials, setting up an insurance program to protect owners of underground storage tanks, bonding to pay for new water projects - and perhaps declaring war on Colorado.Kenneth Alkema, director of the Utah Division of Environmental Health, calls the cleanup fund a key bill, one "the Interim Health Committee worked on all summer." He also rates high on his list of priorities the measure about hazardous waste disposal fees.
Lawmakers will consider most or all of these:
-Hazardous waste mitigation fund, HB37. Sponsored by Rep. R. Lee Ellertson, R-Orem, it would appropriate more than $4.2 million to investigate cleanup projects and to launch the state's own version of a Superfund. It was approved by the Interim Health Committee.
"It essentially gives us the responsibility of listing sites in the state that need to be cleaned up from an environ
mental, public-health standpoint," Alkema said.
The general fund would supply $2.5 million to start the ball rolling.
"It essentially gives us the responsibility of listing sites in the state." If any is bad enough, the state can do a remedial investigation "and/or compel the responsible party to do remedial investigation," he said.
Utah is required to provide a matching grant of 10 percent of whatever the federal government spends for cleanup projects.
Because the federal Environmental Protection Agency has identified $16 million in expenses to start cleaning up the Sharon Steel tailings site in Midvale, the Legislature is asked to contribute $1.6 million. The EPA has earmarked $1.2 million for cleaning up leaking underground storage tanks, so the state will contribute $120,000, facilitated by this bill.
-The hazardous waste disposal fee. Last year, the Legislature passed an act to pay some of the state's expenses in waste disposal. But the money seems to be inadequate and the legislative auditor has criticized the way the program was designed.
Utah has been attracting hazardous waste by its low state fee, only $9 per ton for out-of-state material. The bill would raise the fee so it is in line with those charged in Idaho and Nevada, $20 to $25 a ton.
-Underground storage tank insurance program. A legislative task force headed by Sen. Fred Finlinson, R-Murray, worked on this bill all summer, but it was rejected by the Interim Health Committee in a close vote.
"I think it possibly has some life" and might come to a vote, Alkema said.
The bill would set up a state insurance fund for gasoline stations and other owners of underground storage tanks who otherwise might find themselves facing tremendous costs brought about by a cleanup.
Tank owners would be charged $250 per tank per year for the first three years and $150 in the fourth year. The money would pay for investigation of suspected leaking tanks and for corrective actions.
-Water project bonding. "Senator Finlinson has a bill that he plans to introduce on bonding," Alkema said. This $50 million bill would fund wastewater plant construction and drinking water projects.
-War on Colorado? Well, maybe not quite. At any rate, state officials and legislators are unhappy over that state's plans to allow a low-level nuclear-disposal facility to be built 20 miles from the Utah border. The plant, to be operated by UMETCO Minerals of Grand Junction, Colo., would be near the San Miguel River, a tributary of the Colorado River in Utah.
Officials worry about the possibility of radioactive material contaminating the water.
Alkema doesn't think a resolution would be strong enough. If Colorado allows construction without answering technical questions, or allows it to go ahead despite deficiencies - and if Utah officials decide it really would pose a hazard - then the state may be forced to act.
"We would do whatever we could legally to prevent such a facility from being constructed," he said.
Perhaps the Beehive Militia wouldn't be called out. But a federal suit could be filed.