In the last hours of Utah’s 45-day legislative session for 2016, a scandal has erupted involving two of the state’s most powerful policymakers and it involves a bill that is poised for passage before midnight on March 10. Both Republican Governor Gary Herbert and Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams (Republican – Layton) have been actively campaigning for the passage of SB 246 – Funding for Infrastructure Revisions, known as the bill that would authorize $53 million in public funds for investment in an expansion of the Port of Oakland. It is intended to allow Utah to have an export portal to extend it’s sizable coal market to buyers on the Pacific Rim.
On Thursday, the East Bay Express, one of Oakland’s most widely read alternative media sites carried a story that tied Herbert and Adams as being under the influence of contributions from Bowie Resource Partners, with conflicts involving more than $30,000 since the last campaign cycle in 2014. Bowie is a Kentucky coal mining conglomerate which recently purchased coal mines in Utah. One of the mines is among the oldest operated in the coal-rich state.
Bowie now desperately needs access to remaining coal markets – including third-world, emerging steel suppliers who purchase bulk quantities of metallurgical coal used in smelter operations and antiquated power generation facilities.
Named in the Oakland article were most of the Utah legislative leadership which constitutes the state’s Republican supermajority. The influence peddling is rampant in a state where that has come to be the norm.
Aside from Herbert and Adams, public campaign documents disclosed that the year before Bowie purchased existing Utah mining operations in 2015, House Speaker Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper), Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan (Republican – Taylorsville), Rules Committee Chairman Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab), were given in excess of $15,500 from Bowie. The mining firm had been seeking access to a port since 2013 and found the potential for that with Utah. Bowie’s own efforts had been rejected by California authorities previously.
During the majority caucus luncheon attended by several reporters, a brief reference was made to send SB 246, known as “the Coal Port bill,” to interim study. This is a procedural move that would allow the politicians to save face as well as effectively sweep the scandal under the state’s carpet. The bill is presently awaiting its presentation in the Utah House of Representatives for final passage unless that motion to refer to “interim study” were to occur. Many feel that would be appropriate because, in addition to the looming ethics scandal, many litigants are reported to be poised to challenge the bill in court as it involves the questionable use of public funds.
The bill has been introduced by its House sponsor and is being debated as this article went live.