New West Daily Roundup for July 8, 2016

Source: New West

Keeping with coal, over the past few months, we’ve been following a proposal from the state of Utah to help fund a deep water port offshore of Oakland, California. The port, which was slated to receive $53 million of taxpayer money from the Utah Legislature to build the port and ensure it would ship Utahan mineral products to Asian markets. Last week, the proposal hit a wall when the Oakland City Council unanimously banned the transit of coal through city limits.

However, according to KSL Utah, the Legislature’s coal port dream is still on the table—if not in Oakland, than elsewhere:

Officials in the coal-producing region backing the proposed expansion that would allow them to ship coal to Asia are planning to submit a new, more detailed application for the money, Carbon County Commissioner Jae Potter said.

He called the Oakland City Council vote to ban coal shipments disappointing, but Potter said the four counties will work to secure the Utah loan money while the project developer works out whether and how the port could still handle coal. A lawyer for the group trying to construct the port has hinted the issue could end up in court.

If the Oakland project doesn’t come together, they’ll keep looking for new ways to export Utah coal, he said. The $53 million money set aside by Utah lawmakers this year could be shifted to another project.

“We’re looking long-term. What do we have to do?” Potter said. As much as 80 percent of the jobs in his county are in the energy sector, and new rounds of layoffs could erase hundreds of jobs in the coming months, he said.

We previously reported that various parties had called for a federal probe of the coal port proposal, calling it a “‘money-laundering scheme’ to subsidize Bowie Resource Partners.” Now, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, one group is looking at the proposal through the involvement of one person whose involvement might further shore up criticism of the coal proposal:

Gregg Galecki represents the Utah Water Quality Board on the state panel that decides which projects get funded through a pool of federal mineral royalties known as the Permanent Community Impact Fund.

Now Galecki’s employment as an environmental engineer with a Carbon County coal mine has sparked new concerns about how the Community Impact Board, or CIB, conducts business.

The watchdog group Alliance for a Better Utah is questioning Galecki’s potential conflict of interest as the CIB deliberates whether to loan four coal-producing counties up to $53 million to invest in an Oakland, Calif., export terminal.

“From the very beginning, this funding deal has reeked of corporate cronyism,” said Chase Thomas, the Alliance’s advocacy counsel. “To uncover that one of the board members responsible for approving this handout to the coal industry is actually employed by that very industry only adds to the many reasons why this deal has left a bad taste in the mouths of those across the state.”

Galecki could not be immediately reached for comment.

CIB funds normally are spent on local projects geared toward offsetting the impacts associated with mineral development on public lands, which are exempt from property taxes. In April 2015, the CIB voted to approve the Oakland loan, but it required statutory changes to alter how mineral royalties could be used. The 2016 Utah Legislature passed SB246, creating the “Throughput Infrastructure Fund,” and seeded it with $26 million this year and another $27 million next year.

Documents indicate Galecki’s employer, Bowie Resource Partners, Utah’s largest coal producer, intended to invest in the Oakland bulk terminal.

Read New West article here.

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