Groups Ask Feds To Investigate Utah-Funded Port
Several groups are calling on the federal government to investigate legal concerns surrounding SB 246, a Utah law that authorizes funding for a coal export terminal in Oakland, California. In a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, environmental advocates claim that there are legal and ethical red-flags in the way the coal port was financed.
The Mineral Lease Act states that royalties from mining on federal lands are to be used by the state’s Community Impact Board to fund public services and facilities. Aaron Paul, a Staff Attorney with the Grand Canyon Trust, said that SB 246 was used to shift money so the state of Utah would appear to follow the law.
“There’s a provision in the Act that also says, you can’t organize a way to circumvent the prohibition I was just talking about. They’re taking $53 million in money that was allocated to the Department of Transportation and swapping it with $53 million of money that’s sitting in an account with the CIB,” Paul said. “The list of projects that the Department of Transportation is going to advance with that money isn’t changing and the CIB is going to take the money and invest it in the Oakland sea port. It really is just moving papers.”
The letter raised concerns about the presence of conflicts of interest regarding those involved in the process to fund the coal port. One example is Jeff Holt, an investment banker who, according to Paul, could stand to gain from the building of the port.
“The chief thing that we’re concerned about relates to the former chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission. His name is Jeff Holt,” he said. “He also was serving on the Community Impact Board up until about four months, maybe five months, before this loan was approved. As former chairman of the Transportation Commission, and as a former CIB member himself, Mr. Holt was in a position to unduly influence the allocation of the original funds.”
Holt was under contract with Sevier, Carbon, Emery, and Sanpete counties as a consultant. Coal from those counties would be shipped through the coal port.