Utah News

Utah News and UPR Newsline are productions of Utah Public Radio. Our news partners include: The Herald Journal.

Utah's push to wrest control of 31 million acres of federally controlled land would lead to less public access, less public involvement in land-use decisions and more drilling and strip mining, according to a report by a group of legal scholars.

The report, by the Univeristy of Utah Law School's Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, also concludes the move could lead to less chance of imperiled plants and wildlife winning protection under the endangered species act.

Utahns Assist Impoverished Girls On Their Periods

Feb 10, 2015

One of the most prevalent problems in the developing world is one we rarely think about. For girls and women in impoverished countries, menstruation creates a monthly struggle. In Kenya alone, six out of 10 girls lack access to feminine hygiene products.

These girls spend one week a month in their rooms, rather than in the classroom and the workplace. They miss about 60 days a year.

Menstruation can be an uncomfortable topic for some, however there are those who are unwilling to stay silent on the issue.

Ann Lewis is the president of the Utah Chapter of Days for Girls. The organization is committed to restoring dignity to women worldwide through lasting feminine hygiene solutions.

USU Professor Launches Exploration Of Northern Lights

Feb 9, 2015
Jamie Adkins/NASA

In the early hours of Jan. 28, NASA launched a rocket from Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska as part of the Auroral Spatial Structures Probe mission. The rocket’s trajectory was aimed at the Aurora Borealis in an effort to learn more about how solar events affect earth’s atmosphere. Attached to the rocket were six payloads consisting of probes built at the Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University. There to lead the mission was Charles Swenson, director of the Center for Space Engineering at USU.

Lower prices at the pump
Elaine Taylor

Dirt roads zigzig through the Uintah Basin, connecting thousands of oil and gas wells. The area is rich in natural resources, and many of the towns that have sprouted up in this rangeland are built around the drilling and extraction of these resources.

The future of these wells—and the people who make a living from them—is uncertain, as oil prices remain at some of the lowest levels seen in years.

“In the month of December, oil prices have decreased between 35 to 40 percent,” said Benjamin Blau, a professor of economics at Utah State University.

Blau said these low prices stem from a slower global demand for oil while production is increasing.

“Currently, Utah is ranked 11th in the nation in oil production, and so whenever oil prices decrease, you can expect to see slower production,” Blau said.

desert bluffs

On Thursday we brought you the story of Jim Dabakis’ public lands bill SB 105. The bill aims to set a deadline for Utah’s public lands debate. If passed, it would require the Attorney General’s Office to file a lawsuit for the federal lands it claims rightfully belong to Utah by June of 2016. Dabakis’ goal: have the Supreme Court end the debate over the lands once and for all.

Assistant Attorney General Tony Rampton said Dabakis has it all wrong.

USU Opens New Synthetic Spider Silk Facility

Feb 6, 2015
Evan Hall

Thursday saw the opening of the USTAR Bioproducts Scale Up facility on the Innovation Campus of Utah State University. The facility was designed for the mass production of material and chemicals derived from renewable biological materials. One of the major areas of interest at the research facility will be synthetic spider silk.

According to Scott Hinton, Director of the Synthetic Biomanufacturing Institute at USU, synthetic spider silk derived from the silk of the banana spider has a wide variety of applications.

mesa in desert

A bill aimed at settling the public lands debate in Utah once and for all cleared committee on Tuesday and is headed to a vote in the Utah Legislature.

SB 105 would give Attorney General Sean Reyes until June 30, 2016 to file a lawsuit for federally owned lands in the state. Utah has long claimed ownership of more than 30 million acres of public lands it says the federal government does not have a legal right to.

How Climate Change Is Altering Western Winters

Feb 5, 2015

You don’t need me to tell you that the winter in Utah has been rather lackluster this year. While our mountain peaks are still white, any snow we have seen in the valleys has all but melted off. According to Simon Wang, assistant director of the Utah Climate Center, this is due to how weather patterns coming inland from the Pacific Ocean have changed.


Rep. Mia Love addressed the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday. The first-term, 4th District congresswoman spoke to House members about H.R. 596, a bill which would repeal the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare as it is commonly called.

“I’d like to ask a few questions of my colleagues as it relates to healthcare: Has Congress made healthcare more accessible and affordable? Has the quality of care improved? No. Do hardworking families and our children deserve better? Absolutely. Now is the time to repeal and replace this disaster of a law,” Love said.


A bill that would have diverted revenue from alcohol violation fines to the Utah Attorney General’s Office was voted down in the state Senate Wednesday. Senate Bill 72, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, a Republican from Layton, called for additional funds to help enforce the Alcohol Beverage Control Act.

Speaking to the Senate, Jerry Stevenson said that the additional funds are needed to help law enforcement keep pace with rising alcohol violations by providing legal support to the state Attorney General. The funding would have been capped at $180,000 per year.

Jennifer Pemberton

With less than a week left for Northern Utahns to comment on a proposed winter wood burning ban, the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is acknowledging that the proposal will not move forward as written.

DAQ Director Bryce Bird told legislators on Monday that the overwhelming feedback received at public hearings in the seven affected northern Utah counties has made it obvious that the proposed rule needs to head in a different direction.

Erin Hensel is a teacher at Cedar High School and was pulling out of the school when she witnessed the incident, she said as medical personnel employed hydraulic equipment to extract the driver from the vehicle.


The Utah Republican Party is in hot water with its national counterpart over the state’s presidential primary election. The Republican National Committee is asking Utah to change the date of its 2016 Republican primary. Utah’s registered Republicans are set to decide on their nominee on June 28th of that year. However, because its national convention will be held earlier than normal next year, the GOP has decided that states must hold their primaries before the second Saturday in June of 2016.

Utahns Rally For Clean Air

Feb 2, 2015
Melissa Allison

As members of the state legislature considers $28 million worth of proposals intended to improve air quality, residents in Cache Valley gathered at the Logan Library on Saturday to join other residents across Utah.

“Air is an inalienable right. I mean, come on folks, we should have clean air and clean water.”

Kate Stephens, a volunteer for Utah Mom’s for Clean Air, organized the rally at the library and said she believes people in general care about other human beings and children exposed to air pollution suffer.

“Children who are exposed to air pollution will likely never develop full lung capacity as adults," Stephens said. "And air pollution exacerbates existing asthma in both adults and children.”

Gov. Gary Herbert, said he is working with law makers to pass more this session.

State Rep. Jack Draxler is proposing an alternative bill concerning tax increases to fund Utah’s public education system. Among other things, Draxler’s bill proposes to use 25 percent of the revenue from an increase in the state’s income tax to provide for a raise in public school teacher salaries. Another 25 percent would go toward technology programs while the remaining 50 percent would be allocated to performance-based teacher pay raises.


The Utah Democratic Party will have a new executive director starting Monday. Lauren Littlefield will replace Matt Lyon, who is stepping down after four years in the position.

Littlefield said she has her eyes set on getting more Democrats elected in 2016.

“Voter participation in the state is dismal and pathetic at best, and that’s something that I hope to increase, especially on the Democratic side,” Littlefield said. “Something that we want to do is get more people registered to vote by mail. It’s such a great program that most counties in the state are offering now, and it’s something that people should be taking advantage of.”

Littlefield, a Utah native, got her start in Utah politics in 2004 as a field organizer. She has since worked on city council, Senate and House campaigns, and spent three years with Equality Utah.


During his State of the State address to a joint session of the state legislature Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced his plans to work with educators and officials to create a 10-year education plan for Utah. Herbert claimed that his plan would tie public education money to specific objectives.

Herbert called for an increase in state education funding which, he said, would be the largest such increase in a quarter of a century.

Leaving Auschwitz

Jan 29, 2015

While traveling on a bus back from Auschwitz, Merinda Davis, a middle school teacher from Orem, asked her new Polish friend, Adam, how to pronounce the city they just left.

“It’s the city right next to Auschwitz," Davis said. "It’s where the largest concentration camp and murder site during WWII [was]. We’re just coming back from the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; the commemoration ceremony."

The ceremony was attended by almost 3,000 people, including living survivors who shared, not the horrific details of their experience, but the importance of peace and tolerance.

Davis told me one of the survivors, a rabbi, moved her at the ceremony when he performed a kaddish - a Jewish hymn of praises to God.

“They had a large tent that covered the famous watch tower in front of Birkenau," Davis said. "We were all inside of this tent. When the rabbi, who is a survivor, was performing a kaddish, standing there in front of that tower that symbolized death for over a million people, I think was really powerful for me.”

The night before the ceremony, Davis attended a reception and spoke personally with the survivors.

On Wednesday, Jan. 28 Gov. Gary Herbert gave the annual State of the State. Among the topics discussed were the economy, population growth, education and air quality.

You can listen to the address below, or read the full transcript here.

inversion capitol
April Ashland / Utah Public Radio

Utah's air quality challenges are among the issues state lawmakers will consider during this year's legislative session. Rep. Patrice Arent is the co-chair and founder of the bipartisan Clean Air Caucus, which is focused on passing legislation that addresses air pollution. She says this session picks up where the last left off.

"It certainly was the case that we passed more legislation last year, and did more in terms of appropriations than we had in my prior 13 sessions combined," she said. "But we need to continue that work. There's still a lot more to do."

A proposal to reintroduce firing squads for Utah executions is stirring fresh debate on the death penalty.

Lethal injection is currently the only permissible option for state executions, but there is some concern that the drugs required to administer lethal injections are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. State Rep. Paul Ray (R) is the bill's sponsor, and says he wants firing squads to be an alternative option.

The last man to be executed by firing squad in Utah was convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardiner in 2010. On Tuesday, Gardner's brother Randy Gardner joined a protest at the state Capitol in opposition to firing squads.

NASA Sends USU-made Probes Into Northern Lights

Jan 29, 2015
rocket launch

A rocket launched yesterday morning with help from Utah State University in partnership with NASA. The Oriole IV rocket blasted off just before 4 a.m. at the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska as part of NASA's Auroral Spatial Structures probe mission.

The rocket's trajectory was aimed for the aurora borealis, better known as the northern lights, in an effort to understand more about solar events and how they affect satellites and other instruments.

In an effort to reach out to the community and provide a space for better understanding, the Provo Police Department held its first ever meeting on Tuesday with the newly-created Civilian Advisory Board. The board was created by the city of Provo to help foster trust between local police and civilians. Those on the board include residents, professors, and representatives of Provo’s Black and Latino communities.

Marriott sister anti-discrimination
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Officials from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have announced the church’s support for legal measures protecting certain rights of LGBT individuals.

In a rare press conference on Tuesday morning, LDS church leaders—including three of the church’s twelve apostles—presented their position as a balance between religious liberty and LGBT rights.

Neill Marriott of the LDS church’s Public Affairs Committee was first to speak. Marriott is one of the leaders of the young women's organization in the church.

Utahns from various backgrounds responded to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ declaration of support for legal measures that would protect LGBT individuals from discrimination—so long as religious liberty was protected.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the new comments from the LDS Church brought up important issues that lawmakers will have to think long and hard about.

“I think the legislature needs to grapple with this and see if it’s in fact possible to have an anti-discrimination piece of legislation that people will be supportive of,” Herbert said. “I personally believe that if we have anti-discrimination legislation that would be on a statewide basis, it needs to be coupled with religious freedom legislation so that they work in concert with each other, so that there’s no diminution of the rights of either side.”