Kennecott mine seeks approval to expand operations

May 4 2011 - 1:47pm

SALT LAKE CITY  -- A proposal to expand the world's largest open pit copper mine and keep it operating for another decade could take an important step forward Wednesday if Utah air quality regulators allow increased emissions from the operation.

But opponents are worried increased emissions will further foul the air along the urban Wasatch Front, especially during the winter, when the region has some of the most polluted air in the country.

The Air Quality Board's approval for increased emissions is needed to extend the usefulness of the Kennecott copper mine until 2028, adding almost a decade to its current projected life, said company spokeswoman Jana Kettering. The Cornerstone Project would widen the mine by about 1,000 feet and deepen it by about 300 feet.

Kettering said the approval, along with an operations expansion, would allow the company to invest in other initiatives that will result in an overall decrease of emissions from a mine that is about three-quarters of a mile deep and 25 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

The spokeswoman said those include plans to convert three existing coal-fired power plants to natural gas. Kettering said the overall decrease in emissions would be about 9 percent, but only if parent company Rio Tinto is assured that their investments will pay off.

Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms for Clean Air, said those decreases are only on paper and nothing more than "fancy bookkeeping."

The natural gas plants will help during the summer, but the company will also use them during four winter months that Kennecott currently buys power from the grid.

"There will be an increase in air pollution, and our air is already overburdened," Udell said.

She said opponents don't want Kennecott to close and are in favor of increasing the mine's life, but they want the investments to reduce emissions made first.

"We know pollution kills, and Kennecott and Rio Tinto know. If they don't make good-faith efforts to clean up the air, they will be held liable for the pollution in the future," Udell said.

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