On Jan. 6, President Bush signed into law the first new Utah wilderness area since 1984 — and made it a little harder for nuclear power plant operators to ship radioactive waste to a nearby Indian reservation.
The new Cedar Mountain
Wilderness protects some 100,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management
land about 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. But it also blocks
the right-of-way for a railroad line to the Skull Valley Goshute
Reservation, a key component of the tribes’ plan to accept
waste from nuclear power plants around the country (HCN, 11/19/01:
Nuclear storage site splinters Goshutes).
Hansen, R-Utah, a longtime nemesis of the local wilderness
community, first proposed the idea of using wilderness to fight
nuclear waste in 2002, just before he retired. Wilderness advocates
then were skeptical of the plan, but Scott Groene, the executive
director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, calls the new
law, sponsored by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, R, "a very good wilderness
Significantly, the law nearly doubles the area
that the BLM had been considering for wilderness designation. "The
breaking point was the transition from Hansen to Bishop," says
Groene. "While Bishop would not declare himself a wilderness champ,
he saw some virtues in working with the Utah wilderness community."
The Goshute Tribe and its partner, a company called
Private Fuel Storage, could still transport nuclear waste to the
reservation by truck, but that option is far less likely to win
approval from state and federal regulators.