Report: Utah Board Misused Public Cash on Fossil Gas Tasks, Didn’t Fund Rural Neighborhood Wants

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition publishes a report Today it is revealed that the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund board has allocated more than $ 109 million in public funds to projects to promote or expand fossil fuel extraction in violation of federal mineral leasing law.

The report also documents that needed infrastructure projects in rural communities are not being funded while Utah leaders are using federal leases and royalties to help the fossil fuel industry, including a planned oil railroad and oil refinery.

“Utahns are deeply damaged by drought, forest fires, smoke and extreme weather exacerbated by fossil fuels,” said Deeda Seed of the Center for Biodiversity. “It is outrageous that Utah leaders are using public money to subsidize the fossil fuel industry that is causing this climate crisis. That has to end now. We need to invest in sustainable, resilient infrastructure for all communities in Utah. “

Oil, gas, and coal companies pay the federal government the right to develop federally owned minerals on public land and pay royalties for any minerals they mine. Congress intended to use this money to help rural communities facing rapid growth and infrastructure problems due to fossil fuel extraction.

Utah is responsible for distributing the money to the affected communities. However, today’s report noted that much of that administered by the governor-appointed Permanent Community Impact Fund Board has been used to enable fossil fuel extraction. Meanwhile, millions of dollars in community projects identified by rural communities have not been funded, including water and sanitation services, recreation centers, road improvements, and public safety equipment.

“I have stayed out of politics since I left office, but I cannot remain silent when I witness the misconduct of the elected and appointed people who represent the people of Utah,” said the former Salt Lake City mayor and State MP Jackie Biskupski at a press conference on the steps of the State Capitol. “I respectfully urge the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to conduct a thorough investigation of state mineral lease spending in the state of Utah since 2009 and to take the necessary steps to ensure that local Utah communities receive these funds for their community- and infrastructure projects. “

Today’s report reinforces the findings of a 2020 report from Utah’s Office of the Legislative Auditor General, who raised serious concerns about the Community Impact Board, including the board’s failure to properly fund economic development projects. Despite the findings and recommendations of the audit, the board of directors continued to abuse public funds.

“We call on the legislature and the Utah Community Impact Board to adopt the recommendations set out in the report, including a motion to ban the use of CIB public funds on projects designed to promote or facilitate the extraction of fossil fuels, in accordance 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 ensuring that polluters are given priority over people. We must continue to invest in communities, people and the environment, and only together can we achieve what is possible. “

“The misuse of money by the Community Impact Fund Board, which is legally intended to help communities affected 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 mining industry, not to duplicate a polluting industry that affects people’s health and contributes to climate change.”

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

Rural Ambulance Crews Have Run Out of Cash and Volunteers

WORLAND, Wyo. – Luke Sypherd has been running the small volunteer ambulance crew for the past three years, servicing Washakie County, Wyo., Serving 7,800 county’s residents and transporting them 162 miles north to the nearest major trauma center, Billings, Mont.

However, in May, the Washakie County Voluntary Ambulance Service will no longer be available.

“It’s just going downhill,” said Mr. Sypherd. The work is hard, demanding, and almost entirely voluntary, and the meager income from moving patients to medical centers in small towns like Worland was severely eroded for much of 2020 as all but the sickest coronavirus patients hospitals avoided.

The Washakie County’s enigma reflects a worrying trend in Wyoming and similar states: Rescue workers serving much of rural America are running out of money and volunteers, a crisis created by the demands of the pandemic and a neglected patchwork 911 -System is tightened. The problem goes beyond geography: In rural New York state, Crews struggle to pay bills. In Wisconsin, senior volunteers are retiringand no one takes their place.

The situation is particularly acute in Wyoming, where almost half of the population lives in an area so empty that it is still considered a border. According to an analysis by the New York Times, at least 10 locations in the state are at risk of losing emergency services, some imminent.

Many of the ambulances that have disappeared are staffed with volunteers, and some are for-profit ambulance providers who say they are losing money. Still others are local contractors hired by municipalities who can no longer afford to pay them in the face of the pandemic’s budgetary crisis. Thousands of Wyoming residents could soon be in a position with no one around to answer a cry for help.

“Nobody can find a solution,” said Andy Gienapp, the youngest emergency services administrator for the Wyoming Department of Health. “The communities are facing the real crisis: ‘We don’t know how we’re going to do it tomorrow because nobody is doing it for free.'”

About 230 miles southwest of Washakie County, Ron Gatti is preparing to close Sweetwater Medics, a small ambulance company in Sweetwater County that has 42,000 people spread over 10,000 square miles. In view of a budget crisis, the district is expected to end its contract with Mr. Gatti’s ambulance service in June.

The situation is a direct result of the pandemic, said Mr Gatti and district officials. Rock Springs, the town where Sweetwater Medics operates, was looking for budget cuts. The ambulance contract was one of them. Mr. Gatti’s company suggested moving to a public, tax-assisted service funded by the county, he said, but the money wasn’t there.

“Everyone wants it and nobody wants to pay for it,” said Jeff Smith, a Sweetwater County commissioner.

Instead, the regional hospital will have to respond to emergency calls independently after June 30th.

Mr. Sypherd, who is also the president of the Wyoming EMS Association, keeps a list in his director of ambulance companies, large and small, that are in imminent danger of shutdown. There are Sweetwater Medics that could be gone by fall. Sublette County’s service was recently saved after voters approved a small tax increase to fund a new hospital and ambulance. Albin near Laramie no longer has enough volunteers to fill his crew.

“The ambulance in Albin is fiscally sound. There’s just no one to give it to, ”said Carrie Deselms, who runs the program.

Fremont County, home of the state’s Wind River Indian Reservation, is expected to lose its only emergency medical service, American Medical Response, a national not-for-profit that recently merged with the company that has been serving the county emergency medical services since 2016.

Now American Medical Response says its profit margins can’t justify staying there. The company has informed district officials that it will not be bidding back when its contract expires this summer.

“Call volumes in Fremont County have decreased, making it impossible to cover rising operating costs without a subsidy,” said Randy Lyman, regional president for Global Medical Response for the Northwest, American Medical Response’s parent company. “The income alone was simply not enough.”

Updated

April 25, 2021, 4:17 p.m. ET

There is a misconception fueled by stories of astronomical bills and post facto fees that emergency medical services is a sustainable – even lucrative – business model. The truth, medical professionals say, is that these bills are rarely paid in full, by Medicare, private insurance, or otherwise. Even in New York City, which operates ambulances alongside its fire department, ambulances alone don’t make enough money to survive.

“The income does not nearly cover the full costs of operating the UMS,” said Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for the fire department.

For years, paramedics and paramedics have warned that these unreliable sources of income put the country’s emergency medical systems at risk of collapsing. Experts say the current rural service crisis will almost certainly materialize at some point, but the pandemic has accelerated it.

“It’s a universal problem,” said Tristan North, senior vice president at the American Ambulance Association, which represents aircrews in rural and urban areas. “If you have fairly constant volume, you can get some economies of scale and have a better idea of ​​budgeting, while in a rural area it is far less predictable because you have a smaller population.”

Critical to an ambulance’s survival is its ability to move patients to hospitals, which can result in billing for transportation. That limited source of income dried up during the pandemic as crews were prevented from moving all but the sickest patients, according to workers across the country.

Rather than transporting patients to hospitals, crews were instructed to provide on-site care, said Gienapp of the Wyoming Department of Health. “EMS is not paid for this,” he said.

At the same time, many of the usual types of medical emergencies that helped keep ambulances afloat disappeared either because people were less moving or because they were afraid to go to a hospital and expose themselves to the coronavirus.

“There isn’t enough EMS volume in this entire service area to make this a profitable, balanced business,” said Gatti of Rock Springs. “This is an essential service that doesn’t pay for itself.”

In dense urban areas like New York or Los Angeles, there are enough people and everyday illnesses for an ambulance to get close to the upkeep and enough tax base for cities to support it. But in places like Wyoming, the least populous state and one Notoriously averse to tax increasesEvery missed transportation in 2020 was a critical loss of revenue.

Unlike fire and police departments, many states do not consider ambulances an “essential service”. Only a handful of states require local governments to provide these.

For most of the country, access to an ambulance is a lottery. Some municipalities offer them as a public service funded by taxpayers, while others contract with nonprofit ambulance companies. Most rely on the willingness of volunteer companies like Mr. Sypherd in Washakie County, backed by a patchwork system of public and private funding streams.

But EMS experts across the country say fewer and fewer people are willing to volunteer for the job, a phenomenon accelerated by the stress of the pandemic. Many communities expect volunteers to take the time to do work, which few people can afford.

“The donated work is no longer there,” said Gienapp.

On May 1st, Mr. Sypherd will put on a new uniform.

For more than a year, he had known that Washakie County’s system was unsustainable. To make sure an ambulance remained in Worland, Mr. Sypherd reached out to Cody Regional Health, a hospital system near Yellowstone National Park, and began to see if the agency would take over his ambulance company.

It’s a trend that is growing in importance in rural states like Wyoming: in the absence of volunteer rescue workers or sustainable funding from local governments, some troubled emergency services are accepting takeovers of local hospitals and health systems.

The system is not ideal, experts admit, and it could leave large parts of rural America worryingly far from emergency medical services. Given the alternative, many crews like Mr. Sypherd reluctantly accept help. In May, the Washakie County Ambulance Service will become an ambulance company of Cody Regional Health and will employ many of Mr. Sypherd’s original crew members.

“It’s the right thing,” said Phillip Franklin, the director of the ambulance program for Cody Regional Health.

So far, Mr. Franklin and his team have taken over two struggling ambulance companies in northwest Wyoming and are trying to help others with their workload.

The reality, he says, is that without the help of systems like Cody’s, many of the ambulances in rural Wyoming will be down.

“Someone will always have to subsidize rural America,” he said.

Extra money for public well being, rural web in state Senate-backed finances

The Georgia Senate unanimously passed a mid-year budget of $ 26.5 billion on Tuesday to fund state public health, police and schools through June 30. This has given more funding to initiatives to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and promote broadband internet in rural areas.

The mid-year budget relies on federal COVID-19 aid to fill spending gaps in education, public health, and other agencies.

The Senate version of the half-year budget largely mirrors Governor Brian Kemp’s spending recommendations last month, which are designed to avoid additional cuts after agencies’ budgets were cut by $ 2.2 billion in June last year due to the pandemic.

With no cuts, the mid-year budget will restore more than half of the $ 950 million saved by K-12 public schools last year. The remaining shortfall will be covered with federal funds in order to keep the school budget stable.

State House lawmakers backed Kemp’s proposals to add $ 20 million to expand broadband internet in rural Georgia, more than $ 38 million to buy 500 new school buses, and $ 500,000 to start the new ones State hemp cultivation and medicinal cannabis initiatives.

Senate lawmakers have allocated more money to state health officials to fight the pandemic, and allocated $ 27 million to epidemiological programs and a vaccination scheduling system. Five new posts focusing on pandemics would be added to the state Department of Health, from three posts the House added.

The Senate-approved budget gives the governor an additional $ 7.5 million in emergency funding to fight the virus and would allow state prison guards and youth correction officers a 10% pay increase beginning April 1, in order to generate savings by shedding vacant positions .

“I think this is a budget to be proud of,” said Blake Tillery, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, R-Vidalia. “It’s certainly a much better position than it was this time last year.”

Although passed unanimously, the budget was criticized by Democratic State senators for not including more money for public health services and leaving legislators with no room to generate revenue by curtailing tax breaks and increasing the state’s cigarette tax.

“We think – I think – we should have done more,” said Gloria Butler, Senate Minority Chairwoman, D-Stone Mountain. “The politics of the day do not determine our best thinking or our best political and budgetary decisions.”

The mid-year budget now returns to the house for final vote before it goes to Kemp’s desk to be signed. The legislature will then work out a budget for the 2022 financial year.

Rural areas want virus reduction cash swiftly

February 9, 2021 Updated: February 9, 2021 2:32 am

BANGOR, Maine (AP) – The independent Maine Senator has joined a push for the federal government to prioritize money for emergency aid to coronavirus in rural areas.

Senator Angus King, who is negotiating with Democrats, said the emergency public health and welfare fund money needs to get to rural areas quickly because of the need for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and other vital services. King joined a non-partisan group of senators from largely rural states and urged the U.S. Department of Health to distribute the money quickly.

The senators said Congress allocated $ 2.5 billion under the public health fund to high-risk, underserved and rural communities. They said in a statement that “additional resources are needed to ensure that health care providers and health departments have the resources necessary to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Plan for large US-style water park prompts indignant rural backlash

The plans were originally rejected by Oxfordshire County Council and rejected by Cherwell District Council, but Great Wolf Resorts is hoping this decision will be overturned on appeal.

Despite two bans, activists have raised £ 80,000 through auctions, sweepstakes and a crowdfunding appeal to fund legal agents and experts to take their case on appeal, but have yet to raise an additional £ 15,000.

Ms. Twiddy added, “After all that the past year has thrown on all of us, it is uplifting to see the local community band together to combat this monstrosity that has had such dire effects on a large part over the generations the Oxfordshire countryside would have come.

“We had to organize our campaign and fundraiser during two lockdowns – some of us are homeschooling our children, others had Covid, some protect and each has their own concerns and concerns.”

In a letter to the Planning Inspectorate arguing that the impending appeal should be dismissed, Ms. Prentis, MP for North Oxfordshire said, “Chesterton is a historic rural village served by a local road network that just doesn’t is able to support the extensive catchment area that the development aims to serve. It would irreparably change the character of the village. “

Helen Marshall, Director of CPRE Oxfordshire said: “This is a classic case of development in the completely wrong place. The proposed hotel and leisure complex would be completely out of order in this rural location.

“CPRE Oxfordshire is particularly concerned about claims made by developers regarding nature. A report commissioned by an independent ecologist suggests that potential benefits for nature have been overestimated. Meanwhile, the value of the existing nature and species on the site, including plants such as ox-eye daisies and bee orchids, has been significantly downplayed. “

According to Great Wolf, the resort is expected to attract 500,000 visitors annually, creating 600 full-time positions when open and 1,350 jobs during the construction phase.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.