Gov. Mike Leavitt struck back at the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes and "foreign" nuclear waste consortium Private Fuel Storage on Wednesday, both of whom want to bring highly radioactive waste to Tooele County.
Leavitt personally led the state's charge against the Indians and the limited liability consortium who claimed in an April lawsuit that a volley of state legislation meant to keep nuclear waste out of the state violated interstate commerce rules.
But the state, in a response filed in U.S. District Court Wednesday morning, largely ignored the groups' claims of violated commerce and instead counterclaimed that the proposed Skull Valley nuclear waste site will be invalid since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has neither the authority nor the jurisdiction to license a private, for-profit nuclear waste dump. The state also contends that any NRC study of the Skull Valley site is insufficient and in violation of national environmental laws since it fails to look at the dump's effects beyond a relatively-narrow 40-year official licensing period. The counterclaim further charges that the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes, who would profit handsomely if the waste ever comes, has not properly approved its lease with Private Fuel Storage and that the Bureau of Indian Affairs' conditional approval of the lease violates the agency's own laws and amounts to a federal-level breach of trust against the tribe.
The suit also asks that the case be tried before a jury.
The long-anticipated rebuttal stems from a suit filed in April by the waste consortium which claimed that laws passed by the 2000 Utah Legislature amounted to an interference with interstate commerce since the waste storage was a deal between a private company and a sovereign Indian nation. The state's laws banned nuclear waste, placed huge taxes on nuclear waste shipments to the state, and barred Tooele County from offering municipal services to the proposed waste site.
But like any court battle, Leavitt and his special anti-nuke counsel Monte Stewart also threw in a volley of words on Wednesday. Leavitt said only a "small number" of Goshutes backed the deal and Stewart called Private Fuel Storage a consortium of "foreign" utility companies - meaning they are not from Utah.
"Private Fuel Storage and a small number of Goshutes believe Utah should be the resting place for the nation's nuclear waste. We disagree," said Gov. Mike Leavitt at a press conference at the state capitol. "Private Fuel Storage and a small number of Goshutes believe Utah should not have the capability to interfere with their bringing (the waste) here. We disagree."
Monte Stewart, Utah's lead attorney on high-level nuclear waste storage, added that Private Fuel Storage's action amounts to an attack on Indians everywhere.
The proposal, said Stewart, "is a money-making scheme that has abused and distorted the concept of Indian sovereignty ... They are selling Indian sovereignty."
Of the five legal legs the state plans to stand on against Private Fuel Storage - state claims about Nuclear Regulatory Commission jurisdiction or Bureau of Indian Affairs breach of trust - Stewart said any one alone was strong enough to win in court.
But the state's response was curiously bereft of answers to Private Fuel Storage's anti-trade claims. Private Fuel Storage spokeswoman Sue Martin said that was a purposeful attempt to divert the court's attention.
"It seems to us that the way they are trying to do this is an attempt to divert the court's attention away from the issues of the law that we requested clarification on," Martin said after the press conference. "They are going off on their own tangent but obviously at some point in the process our claims will have to be addressed."
Martin also denied any notions that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was unable to approve the temporary site, "or we would not have gotten this far in the process," and that the deal was compromising tribal sovereignty.
"I don't know where he gets that," said Martin. "It is the state that has challenged Indian sovereignty."
Tooele County officials said the federal court matters take the issue of nuclear waste storage even further out of local hands.
"I think they've pretty well tied our hands up," said Tooele County Commission Chairman Dennis Rockwell.
At the press conference, Leavitt also hinted at what the 2002 legislative session might hold - action on environmental statutes and pressure on nuclear utility shareholders.
"We intend not to leave a stone unturned to make sure this waste does not come to Utah," Leavitt said. "The state's authority and responsibility to protect its citizens and the environment are clear. We can and will act to keep our state free of high-level nuclear waste."