All that federal money could be used for beneficial projects or for more mischief.
A new slice of federal infrastructure funding is about to start pouring into Utah and, with it, a significant set of questions that need answers before the big pennies start to disappear.
Questions such as: Who will take care of disbursements and accountability? How much is already committed and how much is still available for grants and loans? The just approved infrastructure investment and jobs and jobs law would bring in about $ 12 billion in Utah if divided per capita. If the Build Back Better bill passes, an additional $ 18 billion could flow to Utah.
This money could do a lot of good, especially in rural Utah. But they could also perpetuate harm, as we have seen in the past. Mischief as in:
• Utah state lawmakers diverted $ 53 million in federal royalties to a coal export account as several rural counties lacked hospital beds even before COVID hit.
• $ 28 million in federal funds that could have narrowed the gap between rural and urban broadband being instead spent on an oil railroad in the Uinta Basin.
• This year’s $ 5 million coronavirus giveaway to the Utah mining industry, even though coal exports continue unabated.
Meanwhile, officials at the legislature-sanctioned Utah Inner Port Authority, which raised $ 225 million this year in loan and bond authorization, are now waiting for the rail money Senator Mitt promised. Romney during a webinar at Salt Lake Chamber this summer.
The public deserves – and should demand – accountability from the leaders of state and federal agencies who funnel waves of new taxes to Utah. Rural Utah needs infrastructure funds to develop sustainable economic development and end its dependence on the fossil fuel industry.
But federal officials who funnel infrastructure funds should be wary of state plans that undermine President Biden’s climate action plan. Recall that the Attorney General of Utah is suing the federal government and California on behalf of the coal industry.
A pending Build Back Better Challenge grant application from the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunities [aka “GO Utah”] offers insight into how federal funding from the Biden era could be used to both solve and create problems for all Utahns, rural and urban. Working with a group of Team Utah partners, GO Utah is applying for Phase 1 of a US Department of Commerce grant that could bring in up to $ 100 million. The main element of the grant application is a Utah Energy Diversity and Innovation (UEDI) proposal to “transform the rural economy of Utah from a deep reliance on coal mining. and coal-fired energy ”, although coal continues to be mined for“ non-fuel domestic ”uses. and, presumably, for export. The UEDI plan includes project options related to research, manufacturing, entrepreneurial support, and workforce.
For Carbon County, federal grant money could be used to boost 3D printing manufacturers and / or expand research into the nuclear reactors Rocky Mountain Power wants to build there. Since the governor’s office for energy development would manage the UEDI grant, the state-funded center already working on “clean” nuclear power stands a better chance of getting its piece of the pie.
UEDI’s proposal establishes an Equity and Opportunity Advisory Council “led by trusted community leaders” that could set positive standards of economic and environmental justice if it is truly inclusive, transparent and accountable to the public . Who will make sure this happens? Where should the funding go? And where shouldn’t he go?
Will the infrastructure funds be used to build the coal spur from Salina to Levan that Wolverine Fuels wants so badly? Or another scrap uranium rail line in southeast Utah? Or to fund controversial UIPA secondary hubs, like the Savage-Romney Group’s satellite port in Tooele County, Iron County “Port 15” to drain rural aquifers and export coal, and the terminal Sevier County Inner Harbor trucking near the Salina Coal Shipment?
Instead, how about funding newer schools and tech centers, broadband, medical facilities, water and sewer system upgrades, recreation centers, and business loans? transient? How about some of the “climate resilience” money going towards initiatives like the Salt Lake County “Climate Adaptation for Public Health Plan”?
Accountability will be the key to successful infrastructure spending in Utah. Federal agencies like the EPA and the Department of Transportation should establish a user-friendly clearinghouse for information and accountability for Utah infrastructure funds.
For without accountability, federal money that could spur healthy development in Utah will disappear into the smoke, mirrors, and pockets of beloved dealerships.
Stanley holmes, Salt Lake City is a retired educator who volunteers with the Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition and the Sierra Club’s Utah Needs Clean Energy team.