Utah illegally misdirected $109,000,000 in public funds to fossil fuel projects

  • Former Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski speaking at a press conference outside the Utah State Capitol, August 17, 2021. Photo from live video posted by HEAL Utah.

The Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition, of which No Coal in Oakland is a member, has released a report showing that a government board charged with administering mineral lease royalty payments from the federal government has funneled more than $109 million in public money to projects that promote or expand fossil fuel extraction, in violation of the federal Mineral Leasing Act. The report also documents that basic infrastructure projects in rural communities are going unfunded while Utah leaders use federal lease revenues and royalties to prop up the fossil fuel industry, including a proposed oil railway and oil refinery.

The government board whose actions are examined in the report is Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board. As its name suggests, it is charged with administering funds intended “to help mitigate the impacts of drilling and mining” on the state’s rural communities.

The Executive Summary of the coalition’s report, Utah Oil Slick: Funding Polluters Instead of Rural Communities, explains that:

since 2009, the little-known board charged with distributing this public money has funneled more than $109 million to projects that promote or expand fossil fuel extraction in violation of the federal Mineral Leasing Act. That includes more than $2.2 million approved after a state audit found the board was using the public funds improperly.

The report is based on examination of an audit report, meeting minutes, audio tapes, and project documents. It identifies $109 million in public funds allocated to supporting fossil fuel development during a period when over $60 million in community improvement projects — such as water and sewer infrastructure, recreation centers, road improvements and public safety equipment — were not funded.

The $109 million detailed in the Utah Oil Slick report does not include $53 million of Community Impact Board funds money-laundered by the Utah legislature in 2016, aimed at (partially) funding construction of a coal shipping terminal here in the City of Oakland.

Lapses in the Utah Legislature’s oversight are bad enough, but changes to state law earlier this year that direct mineral lease revenues and royalties to fossil fuel infrastructure projects are illegal under federal law. The Utah Oil Slick report sheds light on these irresponsible and illegal misuses of public funds with the aim of compelling the Community Impact Board to “stop funding fossil fuel development projects.” The report also calls on the state legislature to  “Immediately liquidate the $53 million fund earmarked for the … Oakland export terminal and ensure the money is used to finance unfunded and desperately needed community projects.” No Coal in Oakland has been and will continue working with our allies in Utah to these ends.

The report has been posted by NCIO on Google Drive: Utah Oil Slick: Funding Polluters Instead of Rural Communities. It was delivered on August 17, 2021 to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s office and the offices of legislative leaders following a press conference in front of the Utah State Capitol, which included speakers from the Center for Biological Diversity, Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah), Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and former Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. Press coverage of the report on its day of release includes articles in the Deseret News, Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, and Utah’s NPR affiliate station KUER.


Image credit: from video posted by HEAL Utah.