The Rio Tinto/Kennecott PR team has been on a roll lately.
The company persuaded The Tribune editorial board to endorse its plan to widen the Bingham pit and pollute more. It has boasted about the jobs and taxes it generates. And now it is being congratulated for its "commitment to the community" with an agreement to buy half of Rose Canyon the crown jewel of Salt Lake County's remaining open space and give the public access, unless the company decides to mine it and destroy it.
Here is the story not pasteurized by Kennecott.
Much of Kennecott's property was a gift from the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1900s, one of the worst examples of corporate welfare in this country's history. In the ensuing decades, Kennecott used the 1872 mining law to wipe out entire towns; as many as 10,000 people were forced to move from their homes.
Utah citizens, taxpayers and wildlife have continued to sacrifice for Kennecott. Its billions in profit were made possible by devouring public land, through acquiring mineral rights (the grandaddy of corporate bailouts), polluting the public airshed and contaminating public aquifers in Salt Lake County and the Great Salt Lake all at minimal or no cost to the company.
Kennecott is the largest single source of air pollution on the Wasatch Front. Air pollution mimics secondhand cigarette smoke in its health consequences and we can say with 100 percent certainty that hundreds of people die prematurely every year because of Kennecott's emissions. That number likely would have been greater before Kennecott upgraded its smelter in 1995.
The cumulative total of the health consequences of Kennecott's emissions for over 100 years is staggering: tens of thousands of deaths, and many times more heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, visits to the ER, impaired fetal development and a myriad of chronic adult diseases. Diabetes, Alzheimer's and breast cancer are just the latest diseases found to be associated with air pollution. Even "healthy" Wasatch Front residents are taking a hit for the Kennecott team because even they are a little less healthy and their lives will be a little shorter.
Mountain-top removal mining in Appalachia has become a national disgrace, with lush forests on mountain slopes being blasted into a hideous moonscape. But Utahns have become desensitized to Kennecott's mountain-top removal, which now dominates the Salt Lake Valley vista, consuming a quarter of the entire Oquirrh Mountains. Pictures of the gigantic pit are even proudly used in Kennecott advertising.
Kennecott has diverted all the fresh water from the east side of the Oquirrhs and is responsible for the world's worst mining-related groundwater contamination. Millions of birds have died due to its selenium discharges into the Great Salt Lake and the heavy metals in its toxic wastewater ponds.
For 20 years Kennecott covered up reports showing that its tailings dam overshadowing Magna would likely collapse in an earthquake. The company never warned the residents and continued adding 7 feet per year to the height of the dam. In 1992 Kennecott conducted a risk assessment to determine if full containment of the impoundment would be more expensive than the legal costs of property damages and dead Magna residents. That's some "commitment to the community."
But what about all the jobs, taxes and stadiums named after Rio Tinto/Kennecott? An economic study in West Virginia concluded that that state's signature industry, coal mining, is actually an economic liability.
The health consequences of coal mining, environmental damage and negative impact on other businesses costs the West Virginia economy hundreds of millions of dollars more than the state receives in jobs and taxes.
Could similar conclusions be drawn about Kennecott? Before Kennecott is allowed to expand, increase its pollution, further sacrifice public health and is given the green light to destroy what's left of the once-beautiful Oquirrhs and Rose Canyon, that same study should be done here in Utah.
A look at Kennecott through something other than corporate rose-colored glasses is long overdue.
Bill Coon, a Herriman resident, is organizing local homeowner opposition to Kennecott expansion. Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.