Bill moving University of Utah’s College of Mines to Price dead in committee

(Brian Maffly | Tribune file photo) Utah's Centennial Mine, 10 miles northeast of Price in the Book Cliffs, is one the nation's of deepest longwall coal mines. It has been idled for the past years in the face of depressed demand for coal.

Early in this year’s legislative session, a coal country lawmaker filed a bill to move the University of Utah’s College of Mines and Earth Sciences from the state’s flagship campus in Salt Lake City to the Utah State University Eastern campus in Price — a proposal that threatened the very existence of the U. college.

But at SB61′s first committee hearing Friday, the sponsor, Sen. David Hinkins, pulled his potentially controversial measure from consideration after U. officials told him they would look into establishing a satellite campus devoted to training mine workers.

Price, the capital of Utah’s coal country, has struggled economically in recent years with declining coal production in the face of a nationwide shift to renewable sources and natural gas for electrical generation.

Meanwhile, there are few opportunities in rural Utah to get certified for work in extractive industries. Hinkins hoped relocating a U. college, one relevant to the mining industry, to Price would boost the region’s economic prospects but thought better of the idea after speaking with the college’s new dean, Darryl Butt, a professor of metallurgical engineering.

“Eventually, I would like to see more opportunities for rural people in my community and the coal-mining industry in Emery and Carbon counties,” the Orangeville Republican told the Senate Education Committee on Friday. “Maybe we could move the school of mines to that area. I talked to the University of Utah, where it is located, and we agreed to do a satellite campus down there [in Price] to help us to try to get more opportunities to the men and women in that area, [including] Sanpete and Sevier counties.”

At Hinkins’ request, the panel returned the bill to the Senate Rules Committee.

A forced relocation could destroy the college, which is largely dedicated to federally funded research as opposed to training workers for careers in mineral extraction, according to U. officials. A substitute version of Hinkins’ bill would have barred the college from accepting federal research grants, which would have foreclosed its main funding sources.

“We share Sen. Hinkins’ strong commitment to mining education and recognize the importance of mining to the state," Butt said. "We look forward to continuing to collaborate with him, Utah State University Eastern, Utah’s rural communities, and other universities and colleges, to support mining education in Utah.”

The bill’s now-withdrawn version would have moved the college to Price by the start of the 2022-23 academic year, bringing all its faculty, staff and students with it.

'The college shall offer accredited degrees in and related to mining, metallurgical engineering, and electrical engineering, including mineral processing and extractive metallurgy," the bill read. "The college may offer courses in electrical engineering, geology, geophysics, industrial safety, mineral resource management, and other areas pertinent to the viability and sustainability of the state's mineral resources industries."

A fiscal note estimated the cost of the move at $2.7 million and predicted a $100,000 revenue loss stemming from the difference in what the two university charge for tuition.

The U.'s college houses 47 faculty members in four departments: Atmospheric Sciences; Geology and Geophysics; Mining Engineering; and Materials Science and Engineering. Many of these scientists and their graduate students are immersed in research into weather, groundwater and paleontology, in addition to hydrocarbons and minerals.