Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kennecott Scraps Permit, Cuts Added Pollution

Kennecott Utah Copper
Kennecott Copper's mine on the Salt Lake Valley's western edge has scrapped an air-pollution permit for a new rock crusher that would have added around 300 of tons of particulates to the valley's air.

Environmental groups are applauding Rio Tinto’s decision to scrap its permit for a new rock crushing plant at Kennecott's copper mine.

Kennecott originally wanted the crusher to cut rocks that could be used to shore up a mine-waste pond. But now the company says it can keep mining without expanding its tailings impoundment. So mine officials asked state air-quality regulators earlier this year to revoke the crushing plant permit.

“It was a very logical decision for us, once we made a determination that we didn’t need the capacity, to withdraw this permit,” says Rio Tinto spokesman Kyle Bennett, “because at the end of the day our goal is just like everyone else’s and it’s to have better air.”

The Friends of the Great Salt Lake and the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment asked air-quality regulators to reverse their decision right after granting the permit two years ago. That permit would have allowed the crusher to spew hundreds of tons of particle pollution, including dust and the microscopic soot blamed for wintertime smog.

“It is a significant victory because, at the very time that the state is looking for every emission reduction possible, here is 33 tons of PM 2.5 that is not going to be emitted into the valley,” says Joro Walker, the attorney with Western Resource Advocates who represented the environmental groups.

A massive slide at the mine two years ago has slowed -- but not stopped -- Kennecott’s plans to extend the mine’s life by another decade, to 2029. Kennecott says there’s still as much ore in the ground as miners have taken out of Bingham Canyon in all of its 112 years.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.