Utah Board Misused Public Money on Fossil Fuel Projects, Failed to Fund Rural Community Needs

For Immediate Release, August 17, 2021
Contact: Deeda Seed, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 803-9892, dseed@biologicaldiversity.org 

Report: Utah Board Misused Public Money on Fossil Fuel Projects, Failed to Fund Rural Community Needs

SALT LAKE CITY— The Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition released a report today showing Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board has funneled more than $109 million in public money to projects that promote or expand fossil fuel extraction, violating the federal Mineral Leasing Act.

The report also documents that needed infrastructure projects in rural communities are going unfunded while Utah leaders use federal lease revenues and royalties to help the fossil fuel industry, including a proposed oil railway and oil refinery.

“Utahns are being profoundly harmed by drought, wildfire, smoke and extreme weather made worse by fossil fuels,” said Deeda Seed with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s outrageous that Utah’s leaders are using public money to subsidize the fossil fuel industry that’s creating this climate crisis. This needs to end now. We need to invest in sustainable, resilient infrastructure for all Utah communities.”

Oil, gas and coal companies pay the federal government for the right to develop federally owned minerals on public lands and pay royalties for any minerals they extract. Congress intended this money to be used to help rural communities experiencing rapid growth and infrastructure challenges because of fossil fuel extraction.

Utah is responsible for allocating the money to affected communities. But today’s report found a large portion managed by the governor-appointed Permanent Community Impact Fund Board has been used to enable fossil fuel extraction. Meanwhile, millions of dollars of community projects identified by rural communities have gone unfunded, including water and sewer services, recreation centers, road improvements and public safety equipment.

“I have stayed out of politics since I left office, but I can’t remain silent when I am witnessing wrongdoing by those elected and appointed to represent the people of Utah,” former Salt Lake City mayor and state Rep. Jackie Biskupski said at a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol. “I respectfully request the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management to conduct a thorough investigation into the spending of federal mineral lease funds in the state of Utah since 2009 and take the necessary actions to ensure local communities in Utah receive these funds for their community and infrastructure projects.”

Today’s report amplifies the findings of a 2020 report from Utah’s Office of the Legislative Auditor General, which raised serious concerns about the Community Impact Board, including that the board improperly funded economic development projects. The board continued to misuse public funds despite the audit’s findings and recommendations.

“We call upon the Legislature and the Utah Community Impact Board to adopt the recommendations outlined in the report, including the request to ban the use of CIB public funds for projects intended to increase or enable fossil fuel extraction, as aligned with federal law,” said Carly Ferro, executive director of the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter. “The Sierra Club will continue to hold regulators and industry accountable for prioritizing polluters over people. We must continue to invest in communities, people, and the environment, and only together will we be able to achieve what is possible.”

“The misuse of money by the Community Impact Fund Board, intended by law to help communities being impacted by the dirty fossil fuel industry, is reprehensible and illegal,” said Jonny Vasic, executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “These funds should be used to help local communities deal with the impact of the extraction industry, not used to double down on a polluting industry impacting peoples’ health and contributing to climate change.”

Utah Clean Infrastructure partners include Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, the Center for Biological Diversity, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Rural Utah Project, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Living Rivers, Utah Environmental Caucus, No Coal In Oakland, No Coal In Richmond and Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah).