Utah News

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

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The formula the federal government uses to measure poverty in the U.S. is outdated and should be modernized to better reflect the true picture of poverty in America. That's the finding of a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Terry Haven with Voices for Utah Children said the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) guidelines, established in the 1960s, only consider the cost of food and none of the other major expenses of raising a family.

Retirement is just around the corner.
Global Action on Aging

The Utah director of a national program for retired adults is working with lawmakers to study a  state-sponsored program that will help residents save for their retirement. Alan Ormsby is Utah director of the American Association of Retired Persons.  He said more than half of working people in Utah don't have a financial plan for when they retire.


A “right to try” bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use experimental medication has taken another step forward in the Utah State Legislature.    

House bill 94 met the approval of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday. Sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, the bill previously passed the House overwhelmingly by a 72-1 vote.


Efforts by public land managers to reduce wildfire risk continue in Southern Utah. Considerable accumulations of excess woody materials have been gathered together in slash piles in a fire-prone area just south of Beaver.  It’s now the best time of year to extinguish what would otherwise be fuel for summertime, potentially catastrophic wildfires.


Kent Rominger is being inducted into the 2015 U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 30. Though he has hung up his spacesuit, he hasn’t left the industry. He is now the vice president of strategy and development at Orbital ATK. He said Utah is crucial to space exploration.

“Utah is very important," Rominger said. "It goes back all the way to when the space shuttle was being developed and they were looking at boosters at, ‘How do we get 250 thousand pounds,’ that being the space shuttle, 'Put into orbit?’ Which is a very big payload.”

Utah entered the space program in 1973 when Morton-Thiokol, out of Brigham City, was chosen to develop the solid rocket motors that would propel the shuttle into space.

Costs Of Oil: Cheaper Gas, Worse Air Quality?

Feb 21, 2015
Utah State University Old Main Webcam

As gasoline prices dipped below the two dollar mark and stayed there, it got us wondering: Do people drive more when gas is cheap? And in turn, could these lower prices be contributing to our air quality woes?

Along with powdery snow and red rocks, in recent years Utah has also become known for thick valley inversions in the winter months. Cars are a big contributor to those inversions and in Cache Valley less than one tenth of vehicles in the area emit 25 to 50 percent of all the chemicals contributed by cars that lead to unhealthy inversions. 


Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee has been one of the leading voices in the Tea Party movement since he was first elected to the Senate in 2010. His views on a range of issues have often placed him to the right of most of his congressional colleagues. Now, Lee has been rated as the most conservative member of the 113th Senate in a study from Utah Data Points.

The study looks at each senator and assigns each of them a score, with one being the most conservative and negative one being the most liberal. According to Michael Barber, a Brigham Young University political science professor from Utah Data Points, the score is a comparison of senatorial voting records.

“It’s purely based on the vote that legislators cast in office. The comparisons are all just really based on comparing legislators to other legislators,” Barber said. “There isn’t necessarily an absolute standard of what is or is not moderate or liberal or conservative.”

This year, the Utah State University Athletics Department’s slogan is “the climb.” While administrators were probably thinking about athlete performance, their scores and stats aren’t the only thing climbing.

Since 2008, the USU student athletic fee has increase by 311 percent. At this point, the department receives more than $4 million in revenues every year from student fees alone. Yet despite this, they are still claiming a deficit of almost half a million dollars. That’s according to the 2013/2014 USU Appropriated Budget.

The athletics department is requesting $1.5 million from the state legislature this year.

A rural town in Southern Utah has, at least temporarily, lost the area's only police officer.  Escalante Mayor Jerry Taylor confirmed Thursday that Police Chief Kevin Worlton has been placed on administrative leave with pay as of Jan. 12.

The Utah Attorney General's Office is conducting an unspecified investigation involving Worlton.  Taylor said he doesn't know why Worlton is under investigation. Garfield County sheriff's deputies are policing the town during the investigation.

Hatch: Hill AFB Test Range Must Expand

Feb 19, 2015

Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch spoke to the state Senate Thursday to address national issues that could have some effect on Utah. Aside from   commenting on the ongoing friction between the federal government and the state over the Affordable Care Act, Hatch also touched on the Utah Test and Training Range at Hill Air Force Base.

Hatch said that the test range should be updated in response to new Air Force technology. In order to keep the base in Utah and the jobs connected with it, he said, lawmakers must find a way to enlarge the test range.

Costs Of Oil: Will Alternative Fuels Take A Hit?

Feb 19, 2015

What I assumed to be an pretty straightforward question—how does A affect B, how does the cost of one thing affect the allure of another— turned out to not have a straightforward answer in terms of the price of oil and the alternative fuel market. 


In search of answers, I spoke with energy market analysts, trade association representatives, lobbyists, people within government organizations and basically anyone else paid to know about oil prices and their effect on alternative fuel. 


Kearns Republican Rep. Eric Hutchings and Layton Republican Sen. Stuart Adams offered a bill to the state legislature Wednesday that would reform Utah’s prison sentencing. The proposal is based on advice given by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. Under the bill, low-level offenders would be diverted from prison to alternative, community-based rehabilitation options.


Oil revenues form a big part of the Utah government’s budget. The state receives funding from not only the state’s gas tax, but also from public trust lands. These funds pay for a variety of things such as road maintenance, public schools, and hospitals. However, a drop in gas prices could hamper that funding.

Tammy Lucero, the Uintah County Economic Development Executive Director, said that oil from Uintah County alone forms an important part of the state’s revenues.

Jennifer Pemberton

By taking tree ring samples from thousands of trees around the West and determining how old each tree is and how many cycles of wet and dry each has been through, researchers are trying to create the clearest picture of climate in the West over the past several centuries and in turn, hopefully, an equally clear glimpse into the future. Jennifer Pemberton joined scientist Justin DeRose on a field trip to collect tree ring samples and sends this report.


After sinking to their lowest in years, the nation’s gas prices are slowly making their way back up. Utah is still enjoying low prices at the pump. According to the auto club AAA, Utah has the nation’s second lowest average price of gas. It’s $1.92 per gallon. However, prices in Utah’s oil country are much higher.

In January, Uintah and Duchesne county commissioners asked Gov. Gary Herbert for an investigation. According to Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee, the difference in prices defies the evidence.

Utah House Passes Bill to Resurrect Firing Squad

Feb 13, 2015

Execution by firing squad was last seen in Utah in 2010 in the case of Ronnie Lee Gardner. Critics referred to the case as gruesome relic of Utah’s Wild West past. Since then, Utah has deferred to lethal injection.

Now, it seems, that may be changing.

Friday morning, the Utah House of Representatives passed a proposal to bring back the firing squad as an option to inmates on death row. Initially, the House voted 35-35, but after missing lawmakers were summoned and one lawmaker switched, the measure passed 39-34.

Supporters of legislation to help terminally ill patients access FDA trial therapies announced Wednesday the formation of a foundation to help those patients acces expensive experimental drugs.

Two years ago Jonathan Johnson was overseeing a large international company, Overstock.com - but it was his father's health and not his experience as an executive that led him to set up a Right to Try Foundation.


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.