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For Some, Future of Emery County Depends on Coal

Brian Grimmett
Hunter Power Plant located in Emery County

Legislators continued their two-day site visit through rural Utah Thursday with visits to Emery and Sanpete counties.

Thursday’s journey took legislators on a drive through the San Rafael Swell in Emery county. James Nelson is a retired school teacher and a former Emery County Commissioner. As we exited the swell and drove past the coal fired Hunter power plant, he emphasized how important coal is to this part of the state.

“So we mine the coal, we haul the coal, and we burn the coal and we turn it into electricity," he said. "And I think that makes Utah a very attractive place with inexpensive electricity for outside businesses.”

He said one of their biggest worries is that the so-called war on coal will close the power plant and devastate their community.

“Yeah, you can kill our coal mines and power plants, but you darn well better have something else on the back burner for electricity or you’re in trouble.”

One potential plan is a proposed nuclear power plant along the Green River. But whether or not it actually gets constructed is uncertain.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said he supports coal power and the potential construction of a nuclear power plant, but that there’s not much the legislature can do to save the county from the economic and political movements away from coal.

“The people here need to think out of the box," Niederhauser said. "How are they going to reinvent themselves and create the jobs they need to sustain life here so it just doesn’t become a ghost town.”

The two-day trip cost the state about $70 thousand, but allowed legislators to experience first hand the challenges rural Utah faces. 

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