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What the $1.7 trillion spending bill will bring to Utah

Recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 has several Utah-specific provisions

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The route of the Spanish Fork Canyon-Santaquin Pipeline, a part of the Central Utah Project.

The route of the Spanish Fork Canyon-Santaquin Pipeline, a part of the Central Utah Project, is pictured in Spanish Fork on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

President Joe Biden is expected to sign a $1.7 trillion government spending bill after the U.S. House on Friday voted mostly along party lines to pass the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.

Nine of the 213 House Republicans supported the legislation — Utah’s four congressmen voted against it. In the Senate, the 4,155-page bill passed with a 68-29, vote, with 18 Republicans voting alongside Democrats.

That includes Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, the only member of the Utah delegation to support the package. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, voted against the bill.

In a press release after the bill passed the Senate, Romney said it “contains many important measures for Utah which I have been fighting for during the last several years.”

The bill, which marks the end of the 117th Congress, funds the federal government through fiscal year 2023. It includes nearly $45 billion in aid for Ukraine, a record $858 billion towards the Defense Department and $120.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services. It even bans TikTok on federal government devices.

But, as Romney points out, the bill also includes a number of provisions specific to Utah and the West — from funding water infrastructure projects to new boundaries for several wilderness areas in the Beehive state, here are some key takeaways from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.

Funding the Central Utah Project: The bill set aside $23 million for the Central Utah Project, which takes some of Utah’s allotment of Colorado River water from Strawberry Reservoir to the Wasatch Front.

The project is critical for agricultural, municipal and industrial water use in northern Utah. The water’s journey starts in the High Uinta Mountains, where it empties into Strawberry Reservoir, then flows down through Diamond Fork Canyon into Spanish Fork Canyon. A system of pipelines will then take the water along U.S. 6 where it will eventually come through the taps in parts of Utah County.

The Bonneville Shoreline Trail Advancement Act: Northern Utah’s iconic Bonneville Shoreline Trail will see some changes with adjustments to several wilderness areas in Salt Lake and Cache counties, which will accommodate mountain bikers and make the trail multi-use.

The bill adjusts the boundaries to the Lone Peak, Twin Peaks, Mount Olympus and Mount Naomi wilderness areas, where biking on trails is not allowed.

In total, 326 acres of wilderness across the four areas will be released. In Millcreek Canyon, an additional 326 acres of land previously owned by the Boy Scouts of America will be designated as wilderness as an offset.

The bill was originally introduced in 2021 by Romney and Rep. John Curtis, and was endorsed by Lee and Reps. Chris Stewart, Blake Moore and Burgess Owens. 

The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act: Also cosponsored by Romney and Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper, the provision funds conservation programs to protect native fish species in the Colorado and San Juan rivers.

The humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker are all either federally threatened or endangered, and the act will extend ongoing programs aimed at bolstering habitat and monitoring populations. The extension will last one year for communities to develop a management plan.

Moore and Stewart also introduced companion legislation in the House in 2021.

Funds for wildfire management: The bill allocates several billion for wildland fire management, including $1.6 billion for wildfire preparedness and suppression; $4.6 billion for expenses related to wildfires and other natural disasters, with $1.5 billion alone going to the National Park Service; and $720 million for firefighter grant programs.

Those provisions include $247 million for hazardous fuels reduction, a $20 million increase from last year.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes: Also cosponsored by Romney is the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which the Utah senator says will “provide long-term financial security for rural counties in Utah,” according to a news release from his office.

The program issues payments from the federal government to local governments that have large swaths of nontaxable federal land in their boundaries. The program is meant to offset losses in property taxes and is fully funded under the bill.

Halting PAYGO cuts: The bill postpones some Medicare cuts and the statutory Pay-As-You-Go sequester, which according to Romney’s office, would have cut roughly $80 million to 90 million from Utah hospitals.

Funding Utah-based military programs: The bill directs $8.5 billion for 61 new F-35 aircraft and puts an additional $2.1 billion toward the “continued development and modernization of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.” It also funds the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or Sentinel, a missile program.

Some maintenance, training, storage, testing and support for both the F-35 and Sentinel programs takes place at Utah’s Hill Air Force Base and Dugway Proving Ground.

Mine remediation in southern Utah: The bill also includes $67 million for the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project outside of Moab, according to Romney’s office.

The project removes contaminated material from uranium mills in an effort to improve groundwater and the surrounding environment.