This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Kennecott has announced public meetings to discuss expansion of its open-pit mine, the largest in the world located in an urban environment. They will tell you how many jobs they create, how copper is needed for your iPod/cell phone and more. But the public now needs to ask about their numbers on the health effects of the expansion.
Kennecott's claim that its expansion will eliminate about 80 percent (thousands of tons) of harmful PM10 and PM2.5 particulates is based on a graduate student's thesis written 15 years ago and paid for by Kennecott. The thesis is hypothetical and not validated: 1) there was no model validation (i.e., no attempt to validate the model with real data), and 2) discussions and conclusions in the thesis give support to the notion that the results of the study are not reliable. There are many statements in the thesis that caution the reader about reading too much into the results.
Banked emissions are emissions that the company removed from the airshed in the past but is allowed to emit at a later time, or could be sold for others to emit. Kennecott's current expansion numbers are not actual emissions. On paper they show lower emissions than they actually will emit. Because the airshed is full, ask Kennecott to relinquish all banked emissions for the health of the citizenry.
The big numbers: According to the state Division of Air Quality, Kennecott contributes the majority of pollutants to Salt Lake County (carbon monoxide 48 percent, sulfur dioxide 79 percent, nitrous oxide 77 percent, PM10 72 percent and PM2.5 66 percent). The expansion will mean processing an additional 63 million tons a year from the mine a 32 percent increase into an airshed that, once again on Jan. 7, was declared the "worst air in the nation."
Kennecott's planned conversion to gas from coal for three of its four burners helps somewhat, except for one number: The gas burners will be on in the winter, adding instead of subtracting pollutants during the critical winter months when they didn't burn coal but bought power from the grid. Overall, the conversion savings pale in comparison to the overall contribution of pollutants. The coal burners were about 15 to 20 percent of the total. Ask Kennecott to eliminate the last coal burner and phase in clean energy over the next 10 years.
The airshed is full. From 2002-2008, the last inventory reported by industry but not verified by the DAQ, pollutants increased in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber, Cache, Tooele, and Juab counties, one or more types of pollutants in each county but many up for all counties. Of greatest concern are the particulate increases. It's not enough for Gov. Gary Herbert to ask us to drive less without asking Kennecott to pollute less.
In a 2008 inventory of jobs, Kennecott Utah Copper contributed 1,900. Other businesses contributed far more. The top 25 hotels accounted for 5,500 jobs, and the top 140 private and public companies another 137,000. When one calculates from medical data the health effects of Kennecott's contribution of pollutants, the company harms about the same number of people as it employs. The resultant health and worker productivity costs are in the millions of dollars.
Since we already are out of attainment with federal clean-air regulations, ask Kennecott to be a responsible neighbor and keep actual pollutants at the same level as before the expansion and, better yet, to lower them 5 percent a year for the next 10 years.
The technology and best-management practices exist today to do this, and Kennecott and its parent Rio Tinto are exceptionally profitable and can afford it. We, the public, can't afford otherwise.
Terry Marasco is the coordinator of the all-volunteer Utah Clean Air Alliance http://www.utahcleanairalliance.org