Almost half of the revenue generated from mineral mining on federal lands comes back to Utah. It’s typically used to build community centers and roads in the rural counties where the mining’s done. But lawmakers want to use the money now to transport Utah products into foreign markets.
State lawmakers approved plans Thursday to spend $53 million dollars of those mineral lease funds on a California port as a way to give Utah’s coal country a helping hand.
“This is an opportunity to throw a bone to our rural partners, these coal miners, and it’s not just about coal,” Rep. Derrin Owens, R- Fountain Green, told colleagues on the floor.
Supporters say other Utah commodities could also find new markets if the state chips in for the redevelopment of Oakland, California’s, shipping port – a $275 million project. They say it will open the door to the world for energy produced in Utah.
“In an area that’s heavily energy-related, either in the coal mines or power production, this really could give new life to some of the folks and restore some of the jobs that we’ve lost over the last few years,” said Rep. Brad King, a Democrat from Price who represents the heart of Utah coal country.
Environmentalists lobbied to stop the bill through the final hours of the legislative session but they failed.
“It’s a shame to see these Community Impact Board funds being essentially wasted on this venture,” said Ashley Soltysiak, a senior policy associate for the environmental group, HEAL Utah.
She said China’s closing a thousand mines, investment companies are shunning coal and California politicians are fighting Utah’s plans.