Herbert defends meeting with coal firm executives

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Gary Herbert says he won't return a $10,000 campaign donation to a coal company that got a fast-track decision from state regulators on a strip mine.

The Republican governor's comment came after his presumptive Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, on Thursday challenged him to return the donation.

Herbert told the Deseret News that he did nothing wrong when he attended a Sept. 17 meeting where executives of Alton Coal Development LLC complained that regulators were taking too long to approve the strip mine in southern Utah.

I'm here to govern and listen ... You can't isolate yourself.

–Gov. Gary Herbert

That meeting was held the same day Herbert's campaign was banking the $10,000 donation from the company.

Herbert said he made no promises to Alton executives one way or the other about the permitting process, and that state officials had already decided to give the mine needed state permits. He was unaware of the $10,000 donation when he met with them, he added.

Herbert said he won't hide in his office and refuse to talk to constituents.

"I'm here to govern and listen ... You can't isolate yourself," he told the Deseret News.

Herbert rejected Corroon's call for an independent investigation into his acceptance of the donation, saying there's nothing to the accusations.

Government officials should try to "avoid the appearance of evil," he said. "But there will also be those who try to make two plus two equal five," and officials can do little about that.

Herbert said Corroon's criticisms "say more about my opponent" than himself.

Herbert and Corroon are vying to serve out the final two years of the term of former Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is now U.S. ambassador to China.

The company plans to mine up to 2 million tons of surface coal on 635 acres of private land near the tiny Kane County town of Alton, about 200 miles south of Salt Lake City.

It has yet to obtain a permit, which is contingent on the company securing a multimillion-dollar reclamation bond.


Information from: Deseret News

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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