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Health, Science & Environment

Utah Dismayed Not Deterred By Coal Ban at California Port

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Some Utah officials want to invest $53 million of impact-mitigation funds on expansion of a deepwater port in California, but the Oakland City Council has voted to block coal handling within the city.

An inconspicuous state panel known as the Community Impact Board will meet this week for the first time since the  Oakland, Calif., City Council voted to ban coal shipments. Board member Jae Potter says it’s disappointing, but Oakland’s move won’t derail support here for Utah coal.

“We’ll still be mining coal, still generating power and still looking for opportunities to export into a market that has a demand,” says Potter, who’s also a commissioner in Carbon County, one of four counties backing the port investment.

That view’s shared by many state leaders, who are pushing forward with a search to find new markets for Utah coal despite the key vote last week in California.  And it explains why the Community Impact Board is continuing to develop a checklist to gage the wisdom of investing in the California port.

Critics say there’s no sense in committing $53 million toward a private-sector port project to help private-sector mining companies. But the board’s still studying the public-sector investment as a possible lifeline for Utah coal country.

“There’s still a lot of work, and we’ll continue to work on that,” says Potter. “I don’t think this is the last we’ve heard of the possibilities of exporting to Oakland.”

Republican State Senator Ralph Okerlund represents the district that includes the Alton coal mine. He was one of the senators talking a few months ago about fighting for Utah’s right to use the California port for coal. But Okerlund says now it’s up to the affected counties and the port’s contractor to make the next step.

“I really can’t comment on what the state’s actions might be,” he says, noting that it will be months before the issue in Oakland is resolved.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have created a new state fund for the coal-port money. And that’s where it sits -- at least for now.

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