When the profits of your business depend on fees set by state lawmakers, it gets pretty tense when legislators start talking about jacking up those fees or authorizing new competitors on your back doorstep.

The great debate over hazardous-waste disposal fees started Wednesday in the Legislature's Revenue and Taxation Interim Study Committee. You couldn't swing a dead cat in the committee room without hitting many of the state's leading lobbyists - many who work for one of the three main disposal firms in Utah and others who had just come to watch.The Legislature sets the disposal fees. Some think they may be too low. Others say parts of the struggling industry could fail if they aren't reduced.

One part of the industry seems to have real profits - the disposal of low-level radioactive wastes. Currently, only Envirocare of Utah is authorized in the state to handle those kinds of wastes.

Laidlaw Environmental Services would like to get the approval also - and be in direct competition with Envirocare, both located in the vast west desert of Tooele County.

ECDC, a huge non-toxic waste facility in Carbon County, is also involved. They were doing well disposing of tens of thousands of tons of municipal waste from California until the California Legislature changed its fees on waste. California charges no fee on waste taken out of state but had been charging up to $26 per ton for wastes buried in-state. The new in-state disposal fee was recently dropped to just $1 per ton.

And now ECDC's California waste has dropped by a third and is still heading down.

Dianne Nielson, executive director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, says Utah's hazardous-waste fee account is dropping. And legislative analyst Bryant Howe says while the fees brought in $7 million last year, the state will likely only get $4 million this year.

Legislators are asking some pointed questions to the main Utah hazardous-waste disposal companies - like what level of fees are fair and should additional licenses to dispose of radioactive wastes be given.

The committee heard from several disposal companies Wednesday - all saying they're having a tough time making money. Next month, more testimony will be taken.