For years, Utah environmentalists have pointed out that the state is in danger of being a "dumping ground of the West" because it had such low fees for the disposal of hazardous waste.

But thanks to lawmakers, that's no longer true. The Legislature passed SB124, which increases the fees more than 100 percent for out-of-state businesses.Until now, firms from outside Utah that were generating dangerous junk could ship it here for disposal at the rock-bottom price of $9 a ton, compared with $20 charged by Idaho and Nevada.

Now the fee for imported waste is increased to the same as those sister states', and in-state waste fees go up from $6 to $8.

The bill appropriates $875,000 from the general fund to improve monitoring of waste disposal.

The appropriation will be repaid by collecting fees. Once it's returned, the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste will use additional fees to monitor non-commercial waste sites.

Division director Brent Bradford says military bases will get special attention.

Lawmakers also passed several other environment-related bills during their 45-day tenure.

Utah's Superfund cleanup kitty grew by $3 million when the Legislature passed HB37. With this money, the state can begin paying its 10 percent match for funds earmarked by the Environmental Protection Agency to decontaminate Sharon Steel in Midvale and to inspect or clean up leaking underground storage tanks.

The bill also sets up Hazardous Waste Mitigation Fund of $1.2 million.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires all owners of underground storage tanks to have $1 million insurance in case of damage from leakage, or to pay for a cleanup. Many in Utah couldn't afford it.

So the Legislature created an insurance fund that will cover the owners. They will pay $250 per year for each tank for the first two years and $150 yearly ever after. The fund can grow to a ceiling of $17.5 million, paying up to $975,000 for any single cleanup.

New environmental laws

Major environmental bills that passed:

- SB124 increases hazardous waste disposal fees.

- SB189 sets up an insurance fund for underground storage tanks.

- SB26 puts penalties for environmental fines into the general fund.

- SB94 allows up to $250,000 to be spent to respond to hazardous material and natural emergencies.

- SB95 authorizes local governments to recover expenses in environmental emergencies.

- HB37 appropriates $3 million for state Superfund cleanup actions.

- HB151 allows more leeway in open burning.

- HB339, requires incinerator developers to get legislative approval.