Environmental Groups Allege Utah Misused Over $100 Million In Public Funds For Fossil Fuels Projects
Utah environmental groups claim a state program has misused over $100 million in public funds that are collected from oil and gas revenue.
The Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition released a report Tuesday that found Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board has instead used the money for fossil fuels projects. Federal law says the money should go to minimizing the effects of mineral extraction.
A state audit last year also raised concerns about the board’s spending. It found a number of the fund’s approved applications mainly benefitted private industries.
Standing on the steps of the state Capitol, representatives from Utah environmental groups detailed their report. Front and center they held a banner reading, “Invest in our Future. Not Climate Chaos.”
Deeda Seed, a public lands senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity based in Salt Lake City, said the money is supposed to go to basic infrastructure projects in rural communities.
“These are things like [the] sewer system, water infrastructure, public safety, infrastructure — things that communities need to stay safe and healthy,” Seed said. “They're especially critical at this time because of the climate crisis that we're in, where many communities are experiencing the impacts of drought and wildfire.”
Noah Miterko, a senior policy assistant at HEAL Utah, an environmental group that promotes clean energy, said the board should stop funding fossil fuel ventures and “boondoggles including the Uinta Basin Railway.”
“We challenge the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board to use these funds to prepare frontline communities for a future not completely dependent on the fossil fuel economy,” he said. “In the meantime, make sure that residents of these communities are getting everything they deserve and they need to be healthy and successful now and into the future.”
The state Legislature passed a bill this year that removed language requiring the funds to go to alleviate impacts of mining and drilling. Critics of the bill said it helps the energy industry.
Former Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski called on the U.S. Department of the Interior to investigate the state. She also told people to call their legislators to repeal the bill.
“We can stop this corrupt activity by making our demands known,” she said. “Neither the state Legislature nor the Community Impact Board should be able to operate above the law.”
Community Impact Board Chair Keith Heaton said in a statement that though people have different opinions about the decisions the board makes, they operate “according to applicable state and federal laws.”