At their best, the citizen advisory boards that are charged with making policy for Utah's Department of Environmental Quality provide a critical forum for cautious, independent analysis of key issues facing regulators.
At their worst, the boards can be little more than rubber stamps, dutifully signing off on the suggestions of not just regulators, but the industries those regulators are charged with monitoring.
As former members of the Utah Radiation Control Board, we fear that if Gov. Gary Herbert and the Senate appoint an EnergySolutions executive to the board, they will jeopardize the board's independence, legitimacy with the public, and effectiveness.
First, while it is true that statute requires that all DEQ Boards include industry representatives, no Board spends such a large proportion of its business on a single industry as Radiation Control does monitoring EnergySolutions. Run through a list of controversies that the board has confronted in recent years — proposals to import foreign nuclear waste, to increase the size of the Clive nuclear waste disposal site, to allow the disposal of depleted uranium and finally to dispose blended nuclear power plant waste — and in every single one of them, the Radiation Control Board played a key role.
When those controversies played out, board members sought, as dispassionately as possible, to evaluate what was right for Utah — not what was right for EnergySolutions. The company executive nominated by Herbert — Dan Shrum — is extremely knowledgeable about radiation control issues. In fact, he appears in front of the board at virtually every meeting advocating for his employer. However, it would be unreasonable to expect any company executive to shun his company loyalty. Given all the business EnergySolutions has in front of the board, it is simply too big a conflict of interest to have one of their leaders sit on it.
It has been argued that the EnergySolutions representative will recuse himself from votes that impact his company. However, our experience tells us that policy is shaped not just in votes, but in the hours of discussions and questioning and back-and-forth spread over many meetings that precede those votes. If the company's representative abstains from all of that participation as well, his presence on the board starts to become absurd and would, ironically, deprive the board of the very experience this slot was designed to provide.
Second, state officials could have recruited other qualified industry representatives to ably serve on the board — as they did successfully for at least the past 15 years. Most recently, that industry slot was filled by Edd Johnson of RWM-Utah, Inc, who contributed not just real-life business experience but also, critically, independence. The board did not regularly discuss issues that affected his employer's bottom line. Prior to Johnson, Kent Bradford of Westinghouse Electric Company's Western Zirconium Plant in Ogden, which makes products for the nuclear power industry, served not just as the waste management industry rep, but as the board chairman. He was also knowledgeable, and not regularly conflicted.
Lastly, some have argued that the board will benefit from EnergySolutions' knowledge and experience. While it's true that the company's representatives are capable of explaining complex regulatory and radiological issues, EnergySolutions' perspective is already well-incorporated into the board's decision making. Shrum and his colleague Tom Magette attend every meeting, frequently addressing the board and answering questions as needed. As the state Senate considers Herbert's nomination of an EnergySolutions executive to the Radiation Control Board, we hope senators will consider the perspective of those of us who have previously served. We are confident that the interests of all Utahns will be best served if this nomination is rejected, ensuring that the board will retain its impartiality, legitimacy and effectiveness.
Pat Cone, Joette Langianese, Steve Nelson and John Thomson are former members of Utah's Radiation Control Board.