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Utah senators yielded to public pressure and decided to hold off Wednesday on confirming Gov. Gary Herbert's appointment of an EnergySolutions representative to the state Radiation Control Board, but also held back an environmental advocate for further review.
The body approved six of eight nominees from Herbert, but a committee will further review the nomination of Dan Shrum, the radioactive waste company's regulatory compliance officer. He would fill a slot reserved by law for an industry representative, but the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah and others protested that it's a conflict of interest to appoint someone from the state's major waste company.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, chairs the Natural Resources Confirmation Committee and on Wednesday took the unusual step of withholding Shrum's name for committee review. He said he did so at the request of Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, who also requested further review for Sarah Fields, an advocate with Moab-based Uranium Watch.
Okerlund said he agreed to conduct a hearing for both "in the interest of fairness [because] the environmental appointee probably has an agenda as well."
HEAL Utah welcomed the news of Shrum's delay as an opportunity to prevent "the fox guarding the henhouse."
"We applaud the Senate for realizing this appointment requires scrutiny," policy director Matt Pacenza said.
He called on the governor to withdraw Shrum's nomination.
The governor's office stood by the appointment Wednesday. Spokeswoman Ally Isom said Shrum's was the only application to fill the industry position on the board.
EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said the company respects lawmakers' decision to further review Shrum's appointment. He said Shrum is "the most qualified individual within the industry to serve on that board. He has spent his career working on environmental issues, in particular surrounding the nuclear industry and what we do in waste disposal.
"He is a very fair, very ethical individual. Dan Shrum's ethics will not be compromised if he is appointed to this board," Walker said.
Okerlund said he had no problems with Shrum's appointment, and had not heard of any issues from senators until Wednesday.
"I thought that Mr. Shrum is actually a tremendous individual with a great background in radiation probably a go-to guy if there are any questions on radiation," he said. "I have no reservations there."
He does represent a regulated company, Okerlund said, but the board has eight members to provide "checks and balances."
He said his committee will meet sometime in the next four weeks and the nominations could return to the full Senate next month.
HEAL Utah presented the governor and Senate president a petition with more than 1,600 names opposing Shrum's appointment.