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Opponents hint about a lawsuit over Kennecott expansion

by Jesse Fruhwirth
- Posted // 2011-02-22 -

Public comment will be taken today on Kennecott Utah Copper's proposed expansion plans that environmentalists say will allow the company to pollute air too much. Environmentalists are hinting about a lawsuit over the state's intention to approve the expansion permit.

Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Health Environment complains that Kennecott's expansion permit application hides and obscures the true environmental cost of letting the largest open-pit mine the world get even bigger.

"They're asking to move 32 percent more earth over all. That will entail a significant increase in their air pollution," Moench says. The permit asks the state to approve Kennecott's plan to increase its dirt moving by 63 million tons of earth per year, or 178,000 pounds per day.

Kennecott also intends to replace its existing coal power plant--the only one in Salt Lake County--with one powered by natural gas, an extremely cleaner fuel to burn. That and other measures, says Kennecott's Chris Kaiser, will result in a nine percent reduction in overall pollution coming from the company's operations.

Moench both doubts Kennecott's estimates of future pollution but also says that even if a nine percent reduction were achieved, that that it's not good enough. The Wasatch Front has been designated an "non-attainment" area for particulate matter pollution, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet released how much pollution must be reduced in order to attain federal regulations. Based on that, Moench says, the state should move cautiously before approving an expansion permit to Salt Lake County's largest industrial source of air pollution.

Kennecott spokeswoman Jana Kettering says the company would begin to shut-down the Bingham Canyon Mine in Salt Lake County's Oquirrh Mountains if the expansion were not approved, jeopardizing 2,000 Kennecott jobs and an additional 400 jobs of Kennecott parent company Rio Tinto.

Utah Clean Air Alliance member Terry Marasco e-mailed many news reporters this morning stating that the Utah Department of Environmental Quality will divert from its mission of improving the environment if it approves Kennecott's permit application and also accuses regulators of "favoritism" toward Kennecott. "The DAQ needs to cease this process immediately. ... Then and only then will the UT DAQ redeem itself in the eyes of the public and may wholly remove itself from potential litigation."

In an interview, Marasco said he is not personally threatening regulators with a lawsuit--at least not yet. "[Opponents of the mine expansion] are talking about [a lawsuit], but we're trying to avoid it. We went them to do this process right before we get to that point."

Meeting today:

Utah Air Quality Board Room 1015
195 N. 1950 West, Salt Lake City
3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

If you can't make it to today's meeting but want the state to hear your opinion, the Utah Division of Air Quality will take public comment until March 8. To send your comments by mail, address them to:

Cheryl Heying, Executive Secretary
Utah Division of Air Quality
PO Box 144820
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4820

(photo by Shannon Lucas and the Wikiemedia Commons)

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