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Environmental groups say state regulators should not allow Kennecott Utah Copper to expand its massive copper mine on the western edge of the Salt Lake Valley.
The Salt Lake Valley simply can't afford any more pollution pollution which is a lot greater than the company's telling, they said Thursday at a news conference.
"Utah should stand up to Rio Tinto and demand that they start paying the true cost of doing business," said Ashley Sanders, representing Utah Moms for Clean Air, adding that Utahns will continue to pay the price for Kennecott pollution with their health unless the company is forced to switch from fossil fuels to solar and wind power.
The groups accuse the Utah Department of Environmental Quality of going too easy on the company, which already has asked state regulators for changes in two pollution permits that are needed for the expansion to go forward.
Part of the multinational Rio Tinto, Kennecott wants to add nine more years to the productive life of its Bingham Canyon mine by extending its perimeter south in the Oquirrh Mountains and digging deeper for ore. Doing that would mean moving more rock to get to the copper, gold, silver and molybdenum, up to 260 million tons a year compared with the 197 million tons currently allowed.
And that means more pollution, although the company said it has already found ways by updating its fleet and switching its power plants to natural gas to cut emissions related to the additional digging, hauling, crushing and smelting.
"With the expansion and power plants, we expect to reduce overall pollution by 9 percent," said Kennecott spokeswoman Jana Kettering, who added that the company's cost to make those changes will be "one of the most significant investments in Utah history."
The coalition behind Thursday's news conference included the Utah chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Medical Association, Utah Clean Air Alliance, Utah chapter of the Sierra Club and Friends of Great Salt Lake.
The groups pointed out that Salt Lake City already has gotten low marks from Forbes magazine and the American Lung Association for air quality. They also noted that Utah violates clean air standards for several pollutants, including the main components of unhealthy air that plagues the valley in wintertime and summertime, PM 2.5 and ozone.
According to the groups, Kennecott contributes 70 percent of the pollution in the county and its expansion would add about 14 percent more.
The state Division of Air Quality said the company's overall contribution to pollution is nearly 7 percent, if pollution from vehicles is included, and 62 percent of the pollution from industrial sources.