For Immediate Release, February 25, 2021

Contact:

Deeda Seed, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 803-9892, dseed@biologicaldiversity.org
John Weishiet, Living Rivers and Colorado River Keeper, (435) 260-2509, john@livingrivers.org
Carly Ferro, Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, (908) 415-4587, carly.ferro@sierraclub.org

Utah Bill Would Allow Public Funding to Expand Fossil Fuel Extraction, Worsen Climate Crisis

SALT LAKE CITY— The Utah House of Representatives will consider a bill to expand the use of public funds intended to help communities deal with harms from mineral development on federal public lands, allowing the money to fund projects benefitting the fossil fuel industry.

Sen. Ronald Winterton’s Senate Bill 176, which cleared the Senate this week, removes language requiring the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board to spend the money collected from mineral leasing to help local communities repair damage from fossil fuel development. Conservation groups have sued the fund’s board challenging its use of nearly $28 million for an oil railway. Utah’s auditor general has raised concerns about the board using the public funds improperly.

“This bill is an illegal attempt to avoid a lawsuit and an insult to rural Utah communities that rely on this money for health centers, emergency services and libraries,” said Deeda Seed, a campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We hope legislators understand that Winterton’s proposed gift to fossil fuel companies will haunt Utah for generations to come as the climate crisis worsens. It’s irresponsible to even consider this bill, much less allow it to become law.”

Utah receives tens of millions of dollars in federal mineral-lease revenues and royalties each year. Congress intended these funds be used to help rural communities suddenly experiencing rapid changes and growth with the influx of new workers and increased drilling and mining. The Community Impact Board has traditionally distributed these funds to Utah counties to help pay for water and sewer services, recreation centers, road improvements and emergency response.

“This money should be going to rural communities to help meet community needs, not into the hands of private interests to develop projects that will worsen our quality of life,” said John Weisheit, conservation director for Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper.

In 2020 the Office of the Legislative Auditor General released an audit showing that the Community Impact Board often failed to follow rules and guidelines limiting awards to projects that help communities deal with the impacts of mineral development. The audit highlighted the Uinta Basin Railway as one of the projects demonstrating the need to improve the board’s policies and practices.

“We call on Utah’s leaders to oppose this flawed bill and support rural Utah communities,” said Carly Ferro, director of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We should be investing in the community needs and services, not subsidizing pollutive industry at the social, economic, and environmental costs of Utahns.”

Before the board’s June 2019 vote to fully fund the railway, a state assistant attorney general warned that issuing the grant would be illegal.

The proposed 85-mile Uinta Basin Railway could lead to a quadrupling of oil extraction in northeast Utah’s Uinta Basin, worsening smog in an area that already violates federal pollution standards because of oil and gas extraction. The railroad, along with access roads, well pads, pipelines and increased trucking, would also fragment wildlife habitat and strain precious water supplies.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Living Rivers is a nonprofit environmental membership organization, based in Moab, Utah. Living Rivers promotes river restoration and seeks to revive natural habitat and the spirit of rivers by undoing the extensive damage done by dams, diversions and pollution on the Colorado Plateau. Learn more at www.livingrivers.org

The Utah Sierra Club a powerful collective of more than 35,000 grassroots changemakers working together across the state to advance climate solutions, act for justice, get outdoors, and protect lands, water, air, and wildlife. We are an organization that believes in the power of working together to make change happen. sierraclub.org/utah

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