By Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Several Utah environmental groups are asking the state’s attorney general to invalidate a pending loan that would give mineral lease money to a California coal shipping port.

The $53 million investment in an Oakland, California, export terminal was authorized by the Utah permanent Community Impact Board in April. In two separate petitions submitted to Attorney General Sean Reyes, the environmental groups argue that the move violates state and federal law and is a misuse of public funds.

The Community Impact Board is funded by federal royalties from mineral and energy development on Utah’s public lands. The money usually goes toward building and upgrading water treatment, water systems, roads, public safety equipment, recreation centers and storm water drainage.

The board has recently branched out, however, into funding major projects intended to spur economic development, like a proposed rail line serving the Uinta Basin oil patch.

The loan causing the current outcry was sought by four counties — Carbon, Emery, Sevier and Sanpete — and would purchase export capacity at the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center, a deep-water terminal being built at a former Army base in California.

“It’s taking taxpayer money that is supposed to be used for projects open to the public in Utah and sending it to a for-profit business in California,” Ted Zukowski, a lawyer for Earthjustice, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It is violating the purpose of this fund, which is to make life better for the people in counties where they are pulling a lot of fossil fuel out of the ground.”

Earthjustice worked with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and the Grand Canyon Trust on a letter sent to Reyes that condemns the project.

An April 2 presentation by project proponents didn’t mention coal and stressed that the money had to be authorized quickly or the opportunity would be lost, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Utah Department of Workforce Services spokesman Nic Dunn says the loan is conditional on approval from the Attorney General, which hasn’t come through yet. Dunn’s department provides administrative support to the Community Impact Board.

“The board members are just sitting tight waiting for that analysis to be completed,” Dunn told the Deseret News.

Seven months after the presentation, the deal hasn’t moved forward. Reyes has remained silent on the issue.

“We cannot comment on this matter, but can confirm we are working with (the Community Impact Board) regarding their legal review of applications as they are submitted in final form,” said the Attorney General’s Office in a prepared statement.

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