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World & Nation

Utah official who helped arrange loan to ship coal through California resigns

Port of Oakland

A proposed export facility near the Port of Oakland faces sharp new questions after revelations that it would process coal bound for Asia.

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

A Utah official who quietly helped arrange a $53-million loan using public money so that coal-producing counties in his state could export coal to Asia through a terminal planned for San Francisco Bay has resigned his position as head of the Utah Transportation Commission.

Jeffrey Holt, who served as chairman of the commission for seven years, announced his resignation at the end of a commission meeting Friday and told those present it was effective immediately.

Holt, a native of Utah who works in the private sector as an investment banker with the Bank of Montreal, said at the meeting that he was resigning because his employer had transferred him to New York.

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John Gleason, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, confirmed Tuesday that Holt had resigned.

In April, the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, of which Holt had recently been a member, agreed to loan $53 million to four counties so they could invest in the planned terminal. The board, known as the CIB, makes loans using royalties from federal minerals leases. Traditionally, the loans have gone toward public works projects in communities impacted by mining.

Holt, who resigned from the CIB last year to take a consulting job helping the counties win the loan, advised the counties and others involved to say the terminal would help Utah export alfalfa, potash and other commodities – not coal.

“The script,” Holt wrote in email to county officials and others in April, after details of the real plan began to emerge, “was to downplay coal.”

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The plan to export coal came under sharp criticism in Oakland after Holt’s email and other documents were released through public records requests and news outlets began reporting about the loan. Oakland officials have opposed coal exports from their city and port. In recent weeks, Holt declined repeated requests for comment made by the Times by phone and email.

On Friday, the Times published online an article detailing Holt’s efforts, which included repeated contact with the office of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and meetings with the state’s attorney general, Sean Reyes, whose office was reviewing the loan.

“The plan,” Holt texted Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox last month, “is to turn the AG folks into road map not a road block on these large infra projects.”

william.yardley@latimes.com

Follow @YardleyLAT on Twitter.

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