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News Analysis: Utah readies lawsuit against California over polluting power surtax
Last Updated: 2018-03-01 14:30 | Xinhua
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Utah is expected to approve a 2-million-U.S.-dollar appropriation next week to sue California, a move analysts say could make trouble for many, from the state's governor to every taxpayer.


State political insiders told Xinhua on Wednesday that a subcommittee, comprising 15 Republicans and three Democrats, is set to approve an expense that the state governor last week said he did not want the taxpayer to shoulder.

"We are expecting the appropriation to come through," Denise Dragoo, one of the country's top coal attorneys, told Xinhua. It is the money required for her firm Snell and Wilmer to sue California over a 15-dollars-per-megawatt-hour surtax on electricity from coal plants in Utah.

Republican Representative Mike Noel, who initiated the challenge, called the California act "unlawful" in a speech on the Utah House floor.

Utah says the tax has slowed production of coal, hurt miners, and is unconstitutional. But California officials say they do not care where the electricity comes from; they care about the carbon pollution caused in generating that electricity.

The 2-million-U.S.-dollars estimate from Snell and Wilmer includes nearly 1 million for paying three expert witnesses and two law firms, one that helped North Dakota get Minnesota's ban on out-of-state coal overturned.


The expected appropriations vote will put Republican Governor Gary Herbert in the hot seat after saying last week he was "not clear" what motivated Noel to challenge California. He is "not convinced Utah should spend taxpayer money to sue California".

"He's probably worried because he's got a loser of a case," Seattle attorney David Richardson said Wednesday. "Utahans won't forget a party line vote that wastes time and money."

"That's like saying tax policy is illegal. All taxes have a policy behind them," Richardson said.

"Washington doesn't charge a tax on solar sales, for example and California's is just as valid as any other policy to try to encourage certain activity though their taxing authority," Richardson told Xinhua.

Utah Democrats, led by Jim Dabakis from Salt Lake City, have also decried the lawsuit, saying it is "a waste of taxpayer's money."

California authorities indicated they are ready to defend their policy and their air.

"The cap and trade program is designed to reduce climate-changing gases," California Air Resources Board spokesperson Stanley Young said Wednesday.

The board, formed in 1967 by then Governor Ronald Reagan, has an annual budget of 581 million dollars and 1,365 employees for maintaining healthy air quality and protecting the public from exposure to toxic air contaminants.

"When it comes to electricity that Californians use, the program works by rewarding electricity with lower levels of carbon pollution, regardless of where that electricity comes from," Young told Xinhua.


The 70-year-old Noel is also neck deep in another Utah imbroglio.

Last week, a formal ethics complaint was filed against him after he failed to disclose land worth 12 million dollars that he owns in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that he pushed to reduce in size.

The Western Values Project released an analysis showing the irrigated land Noel owns in Kane County's Johnson Canyon poses a potential, yet undisclosed conflict of interest with his push to have the national monument slashed by 80 percent in size.

A big supporter of Donald Trump, Noel had his tie signed by the U.S. president last December at the Utah Capitol after Trump signed two presidential proclamations to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments.

"The people of California have spoken," Ashley Soltysiak, Utah chapter director for environmental organization Sierra Club, told the Associated Press.

"They don't want to have dirty, polluting energy in their state."

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