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Utah Legislature OKs $53 million cash swap to fund Oakland coal port

First Published      Last Updated Mar 10 2016 11:44 pm

Coal export » Critics call the deal a “shell game,” but the House clears it 52-17.
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Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah, expressed dismay at the Legislature's priorities.

"It's distressing that legislators will throw tens of millions of dollars in public money at a doomed scheme to prop up a failing industry, yet balk at spending any resources at cleaning up our air or otherwise improving public health and the environment," he said.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment director Tim Wagner chalked it up as a victory for "extreme ideology and big-moneyed special interests."

In contrast, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, House sponsor of the bill, said Utah's coal country "is ready to be part of the global market. ... This is an important issue for rural Utah. "

Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan, said guaranteeing access to a deep-water port "gives us the ability to have a partnership like we've never had, to continue growing, create more jobs and influence … the world."

Senate Democratic leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, earlier called the trade a "shell game."

"I don't understand why we feel it is important to take Utah tax dollars, dollars that are needed here in the state of Utah, no matter how we shift them around, to help build a port in Oakland. That seems like a real stretch."

But Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton and sponsor of the bill, said the project is crucial to help Utah's coal-producing areas survive.

"They are vested in coal, their economies are built on coal, their jobs, their livelihoods are dependent on coal," Adams said. "They see this as a great investment. It's their money, they can surely do what they like with it."

Adams has claimed much CIB money is spent on "splash pads" and other frivolous projects.

Tribune reporter Brian Maffly contributed to this story