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Huntsman, Springmeyer face off in debate

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There were a few tense moments during Thursday night's gubernatorial debate on KCPW radio as Democrat Bob Springmeyer attempted to emphasize his differences with GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

At one point, Springmeyer waved a copy of a budget summary and interrupted Huntsman's attempt to explain how much education spending had increased over his first term. "This is your budget, Jon," Springmeyer said. "These are not made-up numbers."

Huntsman remained unruffled. "Look at where we were four years ago and look at where we are today," the governor said, suggesting the audience look up the amount themselves, which he calculated at $1 billion.

Only a few dozen people gathered in the auditorium of the Salt Lake Main Library to hear the debate broadcast by the public radio station. Many in attendance were members of Huntsman's staff.

The governor has held a strong lead throughout the campaign, Last month, a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll found that 77 percent of Utah voters backed Huntsman compared to 13 percent for Springmeyer.

The pair disagreed most strongly on the cap-and-trade system for emissions endorsed by Utah and other members of the Western Climate Initiative. The carbon-trading program is intended to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the West.

"Cap-and-trade will destroy the coal industry in the state of Utah," Springmeyer said, adding that the state could "kiss goodbye" the heart of the state's coal production, Carbon and Emery counties, as well as its coal-fired power plants.

Springmeyer, a business consultant, said such a system would not only be "disastrous to the coal industry and to electric production," it also would raise energy costs in the state. "I don't want to be the one to tell Utahns they have to pay twice," he said. "Thank you, no."

But Huntsman said it's too soon to tell what the economic impacts of a cap-and-trade system would be and that it was important to "let innovation find a way" to make it workable. "You can't wave it off as unacceptable," he said.

The governor had a similar attitude toward developing the state's oil-shale deposits. "I, for one, am willing to give it a go," Huntsman said, even though it's still unclear how extraction can be done profitably. He said the industry needs to "put your money where your mouth is."

Springmeyer said he was a skeptic and proposed those investments be used to develop clean coal. "We still have the fourth-highest gas prices in the country," he said. "We cannot develop oil shale and other marginal products to lower our costs."

The Democrat even delivered a dig about Huntsman's family business while talking about economic development. Springmeyer asked why the Huntsman Corp. has "only a minor presence here."

Huntsman said the corporation's chemical manufacturing plants need to be located near waterways but that profits come back to Utah to fund the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which employs hundreds of people, as well as a number of charities.

In his closing statement, the governor asked that Utahns help out "those who are falling on hard times" by contributing to homeless shelters and food pantries. If Utahns pull together, he said, "these tough times won't seem so tough."

Springmeyer said in his closing statement that Huntsman and his family are "extraordinarily generous to this state" and that Huntsman's father was the "closest thing we have to a saint."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com