Editorial: A $2 billion boondoggle for fossil fuel
Billions for crude, not one cent for air.
Published: June 17, 2014 10:36AM
Updated: June 17, 2014 10:36AM
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STEVE GRIFFIN | The Salt Lake Tribune During the winter months, the eastern Utah's Unita Basin -- with its population center in Vernal -- has some of the highest ozone readings in the United States. Scientists are trying to solve the puzzle of what is causing the pollution -- which is usually a summertime problem for urban centers.

What’s wrong with this picture?

On the same day that the staff of the Utah Department of Transportation presented a plan to spend $2 billion of somebody’s money on a tunnel and railroad to ship crude oil out of the Uinta Basin, we also learned that the Alternative Energy Interlocal Entity Board is about to be snuffed out for lack of funds.

It seems that the multi-jurisdictional group, created in 2013 by the Utah Legislature in answer to the public outcry over the disgusting air quality along the Wasatch Front, was never actually granted any money to do its job.

Not that the body, with designated posts for natural gas and oil providers, was ever going to do much more than wave the flag for more natural gas-powered vehicles. It was still one of the few things the Legislature managed to do that even looked like action toward cleaning up the air. And now, for want of maybe a few thousand in staff support, it’s gone.

Meanwhile, fearful of leaving tons of oil in the ground in the Uinta Basin, UDOT staff has scoured the possibilities and decided that the only really feasible way of bringing the ooze to market, and perhaps to Wasatch Front refineries, would be a new 100-mile railroad line, complete with a really pricey 10-mile tunnel.

The staff report does not offer an opinion as to whose $2 billion that might be. But, in contrasting it to the $30 billion in fossil fuels to be extracted, or not, and its supposition of 27,000 jobs to be created, or not, the report clearly implies that taxpayers might be expected to pony up. In the same way they have been threatened for years with the $1 billion cost of a similar boondoggle, the Lake Powell Pipeline.

It all recalls the famous sentiment, “Millions for defense but not one penny for tribute,” uttered by an American congressman in 1798, upon hearing that an official of the French government had offered to stop its harassment of U.S. shipping in return for a bribe. Only, in Utah’s case, it is billions for fossil fuels, not one cent for a post-petroleum future.

Well, we’ve spent a lot of money on public transit, which helps some. And Gov. Gary Herbert has spoken up for accelerating federal plans to improve the fuel efficiency of cars and a new generation of motor fuels.

But the fact that any state employee or agency can even seriously propose such a large expenditure — which is likely to somehow come out of the public’s hide — to double down on our dependence on fossil fuels suggests that our political establishment still doesn’t understand that that epoch is coming to an end. Or that, for our own health, it should come to an end here first.