Federal funding highlights need for coal communities like Price to evolve

Federal funding highlights need for coal communities like Price to evolve

PRICE, Utah (ABC4) – In Price and in Carbon County, the evidence of old coal mines is visible in spots and grown over in others.

But it’s plain to see, according to Mayor Michael Kourianos, that his community needs to re-invent itself.

Recently, roughly $144 million in additional funding was announced to help coal communities reclaim abandoned mine lands. Utah is set to receive $2,829,000.

“If you’re a coal community, you’re in a world of hurt,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

“You have declines in coal production, declines in coal employment. It goes up and down, but the general trend is our country is moving away from coal as fuel,” added Gochnour.

The federal funds, she says, are an investment in coal communities all over the country.

“This money provides the resources for local officials to invest in new energy ideas, to invest in infrastructure, to invest in their main streets,” said Gochnour.

Price, she says, has a number of advantages over other communities with histories of coal-based economies. It’s close to the San Rafael Swell; it’s 90 minutes from Provo, and it’s also home to Utah Valley University Eastern.

Michael Kourianos is the mayor of Price City, and he says coal-industry layoffs in Montana and Wyoming are sharpening the focus of what’s at stake.

“They laid off a thousand men last year. That impacted Montana and Wyoming substantially, so now they’re scrambling,” said Kourianos.

He says he wants to get ahead of the scramble and leverage what Price can offer.

“You look at the Wasatch Front, and how it’s impacted with traffic, and the air pollution. These rural communities, we don’t have that problem,” said Kourianos.

Gochnour, with Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, says innovations in power plants could be a huge part of the evolution in and around Carbon County.

“Where you have power plants, you have transmission lines, and transmission lines are incredibly valuable. So the opportunities for solar, geothermal, other types of energy production — those are the things we need to be thinking about,” said Gochnour.