Opponent to tribe's waste plans headed to D.C.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003

One of the biggest opponents to a controversial plan to store up to 44,000 tons of nuclear waste on a reservation in Utah was tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday.

In accepting the nomination, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) touted his record in bringing tribes, states and other parties together to tackle environmental issues. He serves as co-chair of the Western Regional Air Partnership, a joint tribal-state group charged with improving air quality in national parks and wilderness areas.

"Any environmental problem that involves 13 states, and 13 tribal nations, and three federal agencies, and the private sector, and a long list of environmental groups had complexities and had disagreements, and this was absolutely no exception to that," Leavitt said yesterday at a Republican fundraiser in Aurora, Colorado.

The Skull Valley Goshute Tribe in Utah isn't part of the effort but Leavitt has had his share of disagreements with the tribe. When Goshute leaders signed a multi-million dollar deal to store highly radioactive waste on a small portion of its remote reservation, he responded with a familiar quip: "Over my dead body."

As head of the EPA, Leavitt would not have direct authority over the facility, which is being reviewed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent federal agency. But his staff would be able to offer its views on the environmental impacts. The EPA also drafts regulations that the NRC implements.

Under Leavitt, the state of Utah has fought the tribe in the courts, Congress and federal agencies. State lawmakers have tried to pass laws aimed at stopping the tribe's partners, Private Fuel Storage, from doing business there.

So far, the efforts have had some success. Federal regulators have imposed stringent conditions on the storage of the waste but the courts have rejected a string of challenges to the facility. Still, Leavitt and lawmakers hatched "Plan B" with the hopes of getting the tribe out of the game by opening state lands to nuclear waste.

Bush administration officials, who will be Leavitt's colleagues should the Senate confirm him, have jumped in the fray. Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles offered 26,800 acres of state and federal lands, expanded hunting and fishing rights and in-state college tuition if the tribe dropped its plans. The deal was contingent on Leavitt's approval, the tribe noted in a blistering follow-up letter to Griles in April. Former assistant secretary Neal McCaleb was involved in the discussions before leaving office last December.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham criticized the Goshute's proposal as "makeshift" and said it was unnecessary because Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a federally-sponsored waste repository, was moving forward.

On the state level, Goshute leaders have accused the state of backing dissidents who oppose the waste storage. The state is reimbursing the opponents for their legal fees, according to documents from the state attorney general's office.

President Bush called Leavitt "a trusted friend, a capable executive and a man who understands the obligations of environmental stewardship." He would replace Christie Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor who left office at the end of June. Whitman's public statements often unwittingly conflicted with internal White House policy, making her the brunt of criticism from environmentalists and Republicans.

Relevant Documents:
President Bush Names Gov. Leavitt to Head EPA (White House August 11, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Skull Valley Goshute Tribe -
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt -
Environmental Protection Agency -

Related Stories:
Utah governor presses nuclear waste investigation (07/14)
Goshute members accuse tribe of persecution (07/11)
Panel considers Goshute nuclear waste plan (05/30)
Final ruling on Goshute nuclear could come soon (5/29)
Rulings support Goshute nuclear waste dump (5/28)
Goshute waste site survives earthquake review (5/23)
Goshute meeting said to be 'usual shouting match' (4/30)
Norton asked to pull approval for Goshute waste site (4/25)
Goshute Tribe rejects Griles deal as 'disingenuous' (4/24)
Lobbyist for Goshute waste facility paid well (4/23)
Panel to review revised Goshute waste proposal (04/07)
Scaled back Goshute nuclear plan unveiled (04/01)
Utah tribe's nuclear waste plan dealt big setback (03/11)
Court asked to review Goshute waste proposal (2/13)
Goshute leaders accused of retaliation (01/06)
Dissident Goshute challenge dismissed (10/02)
Rival Goshute lawsuit dismissed (9/13)
Nuke transportation routes worry some (8/26)
Goshute Tribe offers up its 'wasteland' (8/12)
Abraham fighting tribal waste plans (7/16)
Crash threat cited to Goshute facility (4/11)
Goshute rivals seek review of decision (4/2)
Abraham: Yucca Mountain is safe (3/26)
Goshute member cites high-level help (3/15)
FBI subpoenas Goshute leaders (3/14)
Order on Goshute finances halted (3/8)
Tribe ordered to disclose financials (2/26)
State loses tribal lease challenge (7/11)
Tiny tribe worried about nuclear push (5/9)
Tribe files suit to protect nuclear investment (4/20)
Utah bans high-level nuclear waste (03/14)

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