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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Backers of a Utah plan to spend $53 million in public money on an Oakland, California-coal shipping terminal aren't withdrawing their support for the project even after the California city threw up a major roadblock.
Officials in the coal-producing region backing the proposed expansion that would allow them to ship coal to Asia are planning to submit a new, more detailed application for the money, Carbon County Commissioner Jae Potter said.
He called the Oakland City Council vote to ban coal shipments disappointing, but Potter said the four counties will work to secure the Utah loan money while the project developer works out whether and how the port could still handle coal. A lawyer for the group trying to construct the port has hinted the issue could end up in court.
If the Oakland project doesn't come together, they'll keep looking for new ways to export Utah coal, he said. The $53 million money set aside by Utah lawmakers this year could be shifted to another project.
"We're looking long-term. What do we have to do?" Potter said. As much as 80 percent of the jobs in his county are in the energy sector, and new rounds of layoffs could erase hundreds of jobs in the coming months, he said.
Utah's Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, which oversees the money the state would invest, voted Thursday to approve a list of factors it would consider in a new application, including return on investment, legal concerns and timeline. The board had planned to hold onto the funds for about a year while a consultant looked over details.
It marked the body's first meeting since the Oakland City Council voted last week to bar it from shipping terminals, citing environmental concerns about bringing millions of tons of coal through the area.
While port backers say the coal would be shipped in covered cars and unloaded underground, detractors said the health effects could fall disproportionally on the historically black neighborhood of West Oakland that's among the poorest and most polluted in the region.
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