Blog Post

Insight: Utah’s coal transition belongs to all of us

By: Natalie Gochnour

First published in the Deseret News

Dinosaur bones, footprints, eggs and other fossils can be found throughout eastern Utah. It is a paleontologist wonderland because here, in Utah’s coal country, the last dinosaurs came to die.

Today, another kind of extinction faces residents in Utah’s coal country. If the economies in Carbon and Emery counties don’t diversify, many family supporting jobs will become extinct.

The area faces a silent recession caused by society’s actions to combat global climate change. The benefits are widespread, but the costs are concentrated in places like eastern Utah.

I don’t think Utah’s coal country should bear these costs alone. Utah’s coal transition belongs to all of us. But right now, we are losing the battle.

Utah’s statewide prosperity stands in stark contrast to coal country. The Beehive State finished 2018 with the fastest job growth rate in the nation. If current trends continue, this June Utah will achieve the longest economic expansion in state history.

The economy in Utah’s coal country, in contrast, contracted in nine of the past 10 years. The region suffers from high unemployment, net out-migration, and housing price depreciation. Perhaps most sobering is that opioid death rates in the region are three times the national average. It’s clear current economic development practices and incentives aren’t working

Utah coal production declined by 41 percent since 2001. Imagine if similar declines where experienced by Utah’s tech industry, ski industry or Hill Air Force Base. The economic pa