Gov. Herbert facing scrutiny over campaign contributions and a deal to help Utah’s coal industry

Posted at 9:01 PM, Mar 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-11 23:20:02-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's governor and a number of lawmakers are facing scrutiny in Utah and California because of a deal to help coal exports.

The scrutiny is centered on thousands of dollars in campaign cash flowing to the legislators who proposed the deal and the governor who supports it.

The deal involves Senate Bill 246, which allocates $53 million in public funds for investment into an expansion at the Port of Oakland in California in order to give Utah coal miners more opportunity to export coal to other buyers, particularly in Asia.

The coal industry in Utah has transformed dramatically in recent years, with big players donating large amounts to political campaigns.

Bowie Resource Partners owns three coal mines in central Utah that they bought from Arch Coal. Last year, Bowie contributed $7,000 to Herbert’s campaign.

They also gave him $7,000 in 2014 and spread $15,000 more out to a number of lawmakers.

A company called Consol Energy gave the governor $2,500 last year. In the past, they've given him as much as $30,000 in one year (2011).

That company sold their last coal mine in Utah, but they also advertise their intention to expand their international coal exporting business.

Matt Pacenza of the group Heal Utah said those donations are propping up a “failing” industry.

“It's a lot of taxpayer money designed to prop up an industry that's failing, and there's nothing about this proposal which seems like a smart investment for Utah taxpayers,” he said.

The governor's campaign manager, Marty Carpenter, takes issue with that assessment, however. He issued the following statement in response:

“While Utah’s economy is among the strongest in the nation, many of Utah’s rural counties are reliant upon the energy industry. Four out of every ten jobs in Carbon and Emery Counties are dependent upon the coal industry. Local elected officials from rural communities have determined this investment to be critical to their ability to export their coal and have supported the legislation now before the governor. Utah is an energy producing state and Gov. Herbert has been a strong supporter of Utah’s energy industry since taking office. The governor’s position on policies is based upon the benefit to the people of our state and not upon campaign support.”