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.