Moving Forward: Utah’s Future Beyond Coal

In the midst of Utah’s public lands madness, much of our leaders’ rhetoric claims public lands are good for the soul, but not for the economy. Better Utah’s super volunteer, Doris Schmidt, did some extensive research and wrote up a report challenging this narrative and demonstrating just how good public lands are for our economy.

Read the report here!

Doris found that safeguarding the environment has proven to be a singularly effective way to create jobs in Utah. Our large and growing outdoor-recreation economy dwarfs the declining coal industry, although coal is most often proposed as a way to grow jobs on public lands. The outdoor recreation economy extends beyond tourism to include manufacturing, marketing, gear sales, vehicles, equipment, and clothing used in outdoor activities. It draws new businesses to Utah in a pattern of growth that has outperformed most other job sectors.

The coal industry, in contrast, has suffered a decades-long decline with decreases in demand, the rise of alternative fuels including natural gas, and lower employment as automation replaces workers. Proposals to mine coal that lies under the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument cannot solve the fact that demand, not supply, for coal is dwindling.

However, the decline of coal does not have to mean the demise of hope for Utah’s “coal country,” however, as the transition from a coal-based economy presents a variety of opportunities for the region. Variety is the key, with diversified economies offering the greatest stability. Solar energy is likely to be part of that mix; with Utah ranked No. 2 in the nation for solar capacity installed per capita and No. 6 for total solar capacity installed, the solar industry created more new jobs in the state in 2016 than the total employed by coal.

The land itself stands as the region’s greatest economic asset, with its abundant beauty and seemingly limitless potential for outdoor recreation. Safeguarding that beauty, and maximizing the economic potential of outdoor recreation – including the goods and services that support it – can only benefit the quality of life and economic growth that bring Utah long-term prosperity.

Read the report here!

Truth Checker: Doug Owens Cost Each Utah Family $3,000 – False!



On October 19, the Utah Republican Party sent out an email to supporters urging them to hold Doug Owens accountable for a “complete disregard for your tax dollars” and to vote for Mia Love. The basis for this ask was based on a claim that “Doug Owens cost each Utah family $3,000, because of his lawsuit to block Legacy Highway.” We were asked to evaluate the truth of that claim.


On July 7, 2016, the Utah Republican Party sent out a similar email blasting Doug Owens for the part he played in this lawsuit. In that email, the Utah GOP claimed that “Doug’s lawsuit delayed construction of Legacy Highway for years, costing taxpayers over $250 million. That’s more than $500 per family.”

Doug Owens was in fact involved with a lawsuit to block construction of the Legacy Parkway as an attorney representing Utahns for Better Transportation. This lawsuit, arguing that the highway project should be replaced with a train, delayed the project for five years until reaching a settlement that allowed the highway to be completed with stipulations on speed, environmental protection, and a future rail project. During this time, the cost of completing the Legacy Parkway project did increase by about $250 million, starting with an initial budget of $451 million and ending at $685 million.

If you take the increased budget, and divide it by $500 per family, that leaves about 500,000 families. Although exact census data on the number of family households in Utah is not available for this time, 500,000 family households is a reasonable estimate based on the percentages available from both the 2000 and 2010 census data (if growth and ratios stayed consistent, there would have been about 481,587 family households in Utah during 2005). Therefore, the truth lies with the first email sent out by the Utah GOP, and the most recent email sent on October 19 exaggerates the amount of money the lawsuit and settlement cost the average Utah family.

Up for debate is the question of whether Doug Owens himself caused these extra costs. As an attorney, he was responsible for the zealous representation of his client, and any blame would be upon the client for bringing the suit. On the other hand, Owens did voluntarily choose to enter into this representation. Additionally, at the beginning of the legal process, a panel of judges found that much of the financial harm that the state would face was “self-inflicted” because the state chose to proceed with the Legacy Parkway knowing that there were several court cases challenging the approval of the project. However, supporters of the Parkway point out that the project had been approved by all federal agencies and believed that it would be upheld under judicial review. Because these argument stand mostly upon opinion over who shoulders the blame for the years of litigation, we will not make a determination on this part of the claim.


The Utah Republican Party claimed that Doug Owens cost each Utah family $3,000 owing to his role in the lawsuits seeking to block the Legacy Parkway project. Owens was an attorney in the lawsuit and can thus arguably be attributed to the cost overruns resulting from the litigation, although the State was responsible for self-inflicting most of the financial loss. However, the price per family was closer to $500 per Utah family, not an exaggerated $3,000 per family. Therefore, we find this claim to be false.

Debates must go on despite GOP Chairman’s admonition

Former Republican legislator reiterates the importance of debates for civic participation
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Salt Lake City — A series of non-partisan, legislative debates has come under fire after an e-mail exchange from Republican party leadership was leaked to the political news site

In the exchange, Utah GOP Chairman James Evans discouraged his Republican candidates from participating in a series of debates organized by the John R. Park Debate Society, KCPW and the ABU Education Fund, the 501(c)(3) affiliate of Alliance for a Better UTAH.

David Irvine, board member of Alliance for a Better UTAH, has released the following statement on behalf of Better UTAH and its affiliate, ABU Education Fund:

“This strikes me as a cheap way to avoid a real debate. Any candidate who has a problem appearing at a highly legitimate forum to engage in a serious way on vital public topics — with neutral rules and a neutral moderator–has no business pretending to be an advocate and a competitor in the free marketplace of ideas. Voters deserve to see and hear a real, person-to-person exchange. We need more Lincoln-Douglas-style debates, not less. The Republican Chair is doing GOP candidates a huge disservice.”

The Utah Policy article can be found here:

Isaac Holyoak
Communications Director, Alliance for a Better UTAH
801.664.9751 |

ABU Education Fund |
ABU Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to providing a strong, educational voice by creating resources that advance civic engagement and good governance.