Utahns to protest air pollution here while in London

Apr 12 2011 - 5:58pm

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally ran Sunday, April 10 as a print-only exclusive.



SALT LAKE CITY -- A group of concerned Utahns will travel to London this week to protest mining practices in Utah and around the world.

Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms for Clean Air, and a few of her associates will join with the London Mining Network to protest the health costs of mining to those living near mining operations.

The London protest will take place Friday during a shareholders meeting of Rio Tinto, the international company that owns Kennecott Utah Copper.

At the same time, representatives from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment will protest in Salt Lake City.

"We're just a group of moms," Udell said of her decision to protest in London. "We're not professionals in the mining industry. If we are going to put pressure on Kennecott, we are going to have to get outside support."

Dr. Brian Moench, a group of his associates and members of Udell's group will protest at the same time in Salt Lake City against the company that is the second-largest supplier of copper in the United States and employs 2,400 directly and 14,800 indirectly in Utah.

The protests are against a plan by Kennecott Utah Copper to expand its Bingham Canyon Mine, said Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"We are going to be outlining in detail why expansion of the Bingham Canyon Mine is not in the best interest of the people of Utah," Moench said. "We think it is in violation of the Clean Air Act. We are asking the Department of Air Quality to not grant them a permit for expansion."

Kennecott Utah Copper is responsible for about one-third of the air pollution in Salt Lake County, Moench said. "The proposal is for another increase of about one third."

But the Utah Department of Air Quality summary for 2008, the last year for which data is available, shows that, when comparing the three emissions of most concern to regulators -- nitrogen oxide, particulates measuring 2.5 micrometers and particulates measuring 10 micrometers -- Kennecott Utah Copper that year actually was responsible for percentages less than one-fourth of pollutants in Salt Lake County.

By comparing the overall numbers with those specifically measured from Kennecott Utah Copper, it may be calculated that, in 2008, Kennecott Utah Copper was responsible for 24 percent of the nitrogen oxide, 24 percent of the particulates measuring 2.5 micrometers or less and 18 percent of the particulates measuring 10 micrometers.

This is important to Top of Utah residents because Salt Lake County is in the same airshed as western Weber County, all of Davis County, Box Elder County and eastern Tooele County.

The Utah Department of Air Quality and regional leaders are responsible for coming up with a plan for reducing current emissions by about half, said Bryce Bird, planning branch manager for the Utah Department of Air Quality.

The deadline for the plan was last December.

A spokeswoman for Kennecott said Moench's and Udell's groups are misinformed about the percentage of area air emissions for which her company is responsible.

Spokeswoman Jana Kettering said the proposed expansion, called the Cornerstone Project, will result in a 9 percent reduction of the company's emissions in the valley.

According to the company's website, the project will include switching largely to natural gas, which will help cut air pollutants.

A news release from the company states that the power upgrade will nearly double the energy efficiency of the mine's boilers and significantly lower emissions of criteria air pollutants, some by as much as 99 percent.

Kettering said a temporary rise in emissions would occur initially as more rock is hauled away than is currently allowed. But she said that increase would be minimal, as high-efficiency vehicles and processes are used.

Bill Reiss, an engineer and planner with the Utah Department of Air Quality, said the reality about the impact the company's expansion will have on emission "lies somewhere in the middle" of what the two are reporting.

"I think that when the doctors and nurses say emissions will be up by one-third, they are assuming that the emissions would go up by the same amount (as Kennecott Utah Copper proposes to increase in productivity)," Reiss said.

"When Kennecott is claiming an environmental decrease as they increase operations, I think they are comparing what they would be to what their emissions were in 1997, before they made changes."

The company applied for an increased air emissions permit last December and has already cleared the public comment phase in the permit cycle, Kettering said.

In a state where regulators consistently rate the air quality in the worst 10 percent in the country, Moench said, for the Department of Air Quality to approve such a permit would be unacceptable.

Udell said Kennecott is not doing anything illegal with its mining practices.

"It doesn't mean it's moral or ethical, and someday the laws will catch up with them," she said. "Laws continue to progress to absorb more externalities."

Udell defined externalities as costs others must bear, such as poor health conditions.



From Around the Web