The proposed move of medical waste handler Stericycle from North Salt Lake to Tooele County has taken a turn down a bad road and the Utah Division of Air Quality is behind the wheel.
And if the DAQ runs into a ditch, Tooele County shouldn’t offer any roadside help. The state agency has sold out the county cheap for Stericycle’s and the Wasatch Front’s benefit.
As we reported last week, the DAQ and the air quality control board announced that it had reached a $2.3 million settlement with Stericycle for allegedly emitting more pollutants from the company incinerator’s smokestack than its permit allows.
The $2.3 million fine against Stericycle is apparently a fair and appropriate penalty in response to the company’s alleged temporary failure in 2013 to operate within the parameters of its permit. But what isn’t fair and appropriate is the fine print in the settlement: Stericycle will only have to pay about half of the penalty if the company follows through with its plan to relocate to Tooele County. But to get the deal, Stericycle has to complete the move in three years.
It is understood negotiation often comes into play when permitting agencies levy fines against companies that violate environmental laws. It is also understood Gov. Gary Herbert, the DAQ and the Utah Legislature want Stericycle off the Wasatch Front as quickly as possible. But the DAQ’s offer to cut the penalty in half if Stericycle makes an expedient exit to Tooele County is much more than creative bargaining. To us, it is an egregious and reckless incentive that exceeds the penalty and compliance intent of such fines.
Even worse, it is a slap in Tooele County’s face, and may impede the county’s future economic development efforts. Who wants to build a new business or company in a county where the state is willing to let go of $1 million to get a medical waste handler to move there?
And that’s what really hurts. For decades Tooele County has been a willing partner to provide space for hazardous waste industries away from population centers. When Stericycle announced last year its intent to relocate to Tooele County, the proposal was met with only minor local opposition. Last July the Tooele County Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for a site 20 miles northwest of Grantsville near Rowley.
Adding further insult is the fact that Stericycle can pay the $2.3 million penalty without flinching. Based in Lake Forest, Illinois, Stericycle corporate is publicly traded, has numerous facilities around the globe, more than 18,000 employees, and reportedly had $2.14 billion in revenue last year. Stericycle reportedly earned more than $667 million during this year’s third quarter alone.
The road has not only been paved, but generously greased for Stericycle to quickly move to Tooele County. The company doesn’t need an incentive from the state; what it needs is the DAQ and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to quickly process the additional permits for the move.
Based on the DAQ’s 50 percent off deal, it appears Stericycle won’t have to wait long. Which is good for Stericycle, but what about Tooele County? Can the DAQ now be trusted to serve as a credible regulatory oversight agency to process Stericycle’s permits — and protect Tooele County citizens, too?
How we wish that question didn’t need to be asked.