SALT LAKE CITY -- An expansion of one of the world's largest open pit copper mines received an important boost Monday when Utah regulators signed off on a permit allowing increased emissions from dust.
Kennecott Utah Copper can now begin to actively pursue almost two dozen other permits that are needed for the mine's expansion, including approvals for the conversion of a coal-fired power plant to natural gas.
The increased emissions from dust will allow the company to extend the life of the 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. The amount of rock mined would jump from 197 million tons to 260 million tons and would result in about a 15 percent increase in pollutants from dust.
The increased emissions were approved in May by the Utah Air Quality Board after two public hearings and an extended comment period.
Because of the public feedback, regulators added some tighter requirements to the permit. Those include an ongoing review of dust-control measures, a stricter cap on other pollutants and continued proof that efforts to reduce overall emissions of all pollutants are working.
Although the company is being allowed to increase its emissions from dust, Utah Division of Air Quality director Bryce Birds said the mine's overall emissions will be reduced.
"After extensive evaluation, we have determined that the permit conditions are consistent with state and federal standards established for air quality permits," Bird said. "With the conditions in the approval order, the expanded operations do not cause air quality to exceed the federal standards and are protective of health and the environment."
Opponents of the permit have said that allowing such a significant increase in pollution from dust will further foul the already polluted air along the urban Wasatch Front in Northern Utah. Additionally, while a natural gas power plant will reduce pollutants, it may also operate during the winter months when Utah's air is some of the worst in the country.
Cherise Udell, a co-founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, said her group doesn't want to stop the expansion. Instead, they want Kennecott to take all of the necessary steps to reduce air and water pollution as much as possible.
"All we ask is that Kennecott pays the true cost of doing their business and stop externalizing their business onto the people of Utah."