In what is becoming a very visible conflict between officials at two supermajority legislatures and involving at least one Governor, the future of San Francisco California’s East Bay infrastructure and Central Utah’s vast coal and mineral reserves shimmered like heatwaves across the nation’s Western deserts. The rhetoric vaulted two state borders and centered around a legislative proposal made Wednesday to invest Utah tax dollars towards the expansion of the Port of Oakland. According to at least two, long-standing state senators in both California and Utah, the devil surely is in the details.
Just after noon, long-time legislator, and California State Senator, Loni Hancock (Democrat – Oakland) issued a statement in response to Utah Senator Stuart Adams (Republican – Layton) sponsorship of SB 246 – Funding for Infrastructure Revisions – a bill that provides a funding mechanism that would allow investment in a coal shipping terminal in San Francisco’s east-bay. Senator Hancock said that, “Californians who support clean air will do everything possible to stop this.”
Hancock has introduced four bills in Sacramento last month in an effort to keep the coal industry from expanding their markets around the Pacific Rim (video below).
During the Utah Senate’s Government Operations and Political Subdivisions committee, Senator Luz Escamilla (Democrat – Salt Lake County) referred to the list of bills that the California Senator introduced in February. At that, committee co-chair David Hinkins (Republican – Orangeville) who represents, among other areas, coal-rich Carbon and Emory Counties, became visibly agitated and began launching some verbal shrapnel of his own which lasted several minutes.
The California opponents, including more than one advocacy group, were closely monitoring the Utah bill’s progress.
California Senator Loni Hancock quickly released a statement in response to the Utah committee’s approval, saying in part, “I’m profoundly disappointed that Utah lawmakers are moving forward on a plan that most Californians would find abhorrent – expanded daily shipments through our communities [that include] tons of pollution-inducing coal,” Members of the Utah committee had made short work of the approval, using less than 12 minutes to discuss and then vote on the bill. It passed the committee 4-1.
Marching Toward the Passage
SB 246 is surely a bill that Republican Governor Gary Herbert will sign. The next steps include a presentation in the Utah Senate (likely under suspension of the rules to allow the bill to be voted upon before the normal, three readings) and a referral to the Utah House of Representatives where similar motions will take place as the hours tick down to the end of the session at midnight March 10.
Since Adams is the Majority Whip, Senate passage seems all but guaranteed. In the House, the only hold-up could be a pause for more volleys of inflammatory rhetoric sent toward Sacramento and Hancock.
The matter has been made increasingly more public and is indicative of the ideological differences between both California and Utah and beyond. Editorials from the Denver Post dating to 2006 complained about Utah “airmailing” their pollution to Colorado from Utah’s coal-fired power plants operating at the time. Ken May, CEO of the oldest coal mine in Utah and an employee there for 23 years, regularly boasts about how his business allows Utahns some of the cheapest rates for electricity in the nation. “The coal from our mine fuels the generation of power for more than half of the lights at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City.”
Adams’ bill is likely to be heard in the Senate before the end of the week.