Comments to the DAQ on Parley’s Canyon
UPHE submitted the below comments to the Division of Air Quality on Granite Construction’s proposal for Parley’s Canyon:
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment submits these comments on behalf of itself and its members, as well as HEAL Utah, o2 Utah, SaveParleys, Save Our Canyons, Sierra Club, and several individuals identified below (collectively, “UPHE”), opposing the Utah Division of Air Quality’s (DAQ) proposed Approval Order (AO) for the proposed I-80 South Quarry, Project Number: N161200001. DAQ’s proposed AO and supporting documentation in the Intent to Approve (ITA)1 fail to protect public health and safety and the environment; violates DAQ’s regulations and obligations under state and federal law; and lacks sufficient legal and factual justification.
As a basis for comments in this letter, we have attached and incorporated by reference herein the entirety of the Technical Comments by Dr. Ranajit (Ron) Sahu, with attachments, included here as Exhibit 1. We concur with all of Dr. Sahu’s comments, incorporate his analyses, questions, and concerns herein, and request that DAQ address each and every one of his questions and concerns, in addition to its responses to our comments.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) is dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of the citizens of Utah by promoting science-based health education and interventions that result in progressive, measurable improvements to the environment and our health. UPHE is one of the largest civic organizations of health care professionals in the Western United States, including about 450 physicians—some of whom are academics and researchers, but most of whom are clinicians—and 3,500 members and supporters from the lay public. We practice on the front lines of public health, 24/7, 365 days a year. Our patient care responsibilities provide us with a personal perspective on pollution’s health consequences and the impact of DAQ’s decision making on public health and safety.
HEAL Utah is a nonprofit organization that has been working to protect public health and Utah’s environment since 1999. We have a team of experts who specialize in a range of environmental and health issues, and we are committed to advancing evidence-based policy to improve environmental health outcomes for all Utah residents.
o2 Utah is committed to improving air quality along the Wasatch Front. The organization is based in Salt Lake City and has followers and supporters who live in Salt Lake City, Millcreek, and Park City, among other locations. These supporters are concerned about the potential impacts of this project on air quality, as well as their use and enjoyment of Parley’s Canyon and its surrounding environments, like the Millcreek Canyon drainage, Lamb’s Canyon drainage, and Perkin’s Peak/Jack’s Peak complex.
SaveParleys is a collaboration of individuals and organizations dedicated to protecting Parleys Canyon from destructive development and exploitation. In December 2021 a group of about 90 Mount Aire homeowners met to discuss the negative impacts that the proposed Parleys Canyon quarry would have on our property values as well as on Salt Lake County’s air quality, water use and quality, wildlife habitat, fire prevention, scenic and recreation values, and road safety. SaveParleys was organized as an informal grassroots effort to educate the public and policy makers about these issues. Our opposition to the I-80 South Quarry being proposed by Jesse Lassley and Granite Construction is supported by over 27,000 concerned individuals who signed a petition to protect Parleys Canyon.
Save Our Canyons is a nonprofit that has been dedicated to protecting the beauty and wildness of the Wasatch Mountains since 1972. We work to protect and steward natural spaces along the Wasatch for the shared and equal benefit of all people.
Sierra Club Utah Chapter is a non-profit organization that is a powerful collective of thousands of grassroots changemakers working together across the state to advance climate solutions, act for justice, get outdoors, and protect lands, water, air, and wildlife. Established in 1969, the Utah Chapter strives to protect and enjoy Utah’s outdoors and natural landscapes; Educate and advocate for the responsible preservation of clean air, water, and habitats; support the development of clean energy to benefit present and future generations; and advance principles of equity, inclusion, and justice throughout our organization and community.
I. Summary of Comments
DAQ’s proposed Approval Order is not legally adequate or factually supported by the records in its ITA. For a host of reasons detailed below and in the comments of Dr. Ron Sahu, adopted and incorporated here as Exhibit 1, DAQ’s proposed issuance of an approval order for the I-80 South Quarry would be an erroneous application of the Clean Air Act and Utah SIP regulations; is not supported by substantial record evidence; and would otherwise be arbitrary and capricious.
First, DAQ has failed to require BACT that achieves the lowest percent reductions for particulate matter (PM) emissions from the various emissions units, protect short-term ambient standards, or is enforceable as a practical matter. See Utah Admin. Code R307-401-8(1)(a). DAQ’s analysis of BACT for specific emissions units is cursory and lacks substantial support for its feasibility determinations, the enforceability of its control selections, and several other concerns described below.
Second, due to various deficiencies and unsupportable assumptions in the quarry’s air modeling and datasets, DAQ has failed to demonstrate that the quarry will meet applicable National Primary Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM10, and potentially PM2.5. See Utah Admin. Code R307-401-8(1)(b)(vii). Indeed, as Dr. Sahu’s comments abundantly show, deficiencies in DAQ’s emissions estimates and the resultant modeling for PM10 for this source suggest that DAQ’s minor source determination was premature. With corrected assumptions, data, and analysis, the mine may qualify as a major source, with the attendant major source (LAER) requirements accompanying such a designation in nonattainment or maintenance areas.
Third, the description and phasing of the project in the proposed AO are unclear and do not allow the public to understand the true scope of this quarry. DAQ has not considered Granite’s other public statements regarding the size of the mine and the real likelihood that current approval in fact permits the quarry to progress in size without any attendant, verifiable, and enforceable reduction in fugitive emissions that will grow with the mine.
Finally, DAQ’s proposed AO is not consistent with its statutory air quality goals and fails to achieve the agency’s fundamental purpose to protect human health and safety. The proposed quarry would produce fugitive dust (PM10 and PM2.5) and other air pollution, including oxides that produce ozone, that would harm the health of Utahns. The dust would also harm our protected watershed. A vast (and unquantified) amount of water would be needed to mitigate the dust and, given our drought conditions and the need to save the Great Salt Lake, it would harm the “health and safety” of Utahns to divert the necessary water for this purpose of mining in Parley’s Canyon.
DAQ cannot issue the approval order because it has failed to require the Best Available Control Technology for emissions units at the I-80 South Quarry
Under Utah’s federally approved state implementation plan (SIP), DAQ may issue an AO only if it determines that the “degree of pollution control for emissions, to include fugitive emissions and fugitive dust, is at least best available control technology [BACT].” Utah Admin. Code R307-401-8(1)(a); R307-401-8(5) (“If the director determines that a proposed stationary source . . . does not meet the conditions established in (1) above, the director will not issue an approval order.”) (emphasis added). Thus, in order to issue an approval order for the mine, the DAQ must ensure that the control of fugitive dust constitutes BACT.
BACT is defined as:
an emissions limitation (including a visible emissions standard) based on the maximum degree of reduction for each air pollutant which would be emitted from any proposed stationary source . . . which the director, on a case-by-case basis, taking into account energy, environmental, and economic impacts and other costs, determines is achievable for such source[.]
Utah Admin. Code R307-401-2. The goals of BACT emission limitations are: “(1) to achieve the lowest percent reduction, (2) to protect short-term ambient standards, and (3) to be enforceable as a practical matter.” Utah Chapter of Sierra Club v. Air Quality Bd., 2009 UT 76, ¶ 48, 226 4 P.3d 719, 734 (citing EPA, New Source Review Workshop Manual, B.6-B.9). “Once the BACT is selected for a new facility, an emission limitation based on that control technology is also imposed as part of BACT.” Id. ¶ 4.
First, we incorporate Dr. Sahu’s technical comments concluding that DAQ’s BACT analysis is conclusory and unsupported. See Exhibit 1, Section E. As Dr. Sahu’s comments amply show, the BACT analysis for this AO does not result in reasonable or enforceable emission limitations on the pollutants considered; is not supported by the record, relies on outdated and unreliable emissions factors; lacks documentation showing the control technologies that were removed were not economically feasible; and fails to describe available technologies or removal efficiencies used for other similar sources. Quite simply, DAQ’s analysis does not represent BACT, or the maximum achievable reduction of the air pollutants emitted by the quarry, and was not the result of independent BACT research and analysis by the agency. See Ex. 1, Section E.
a. Deficiencies in DAQ’s selection of BACT for specific emissions units
Lack of basis supporting economic infeasibility conclusions. In its Review of BACT for emissions units at the quarry, DAQ rejected several technically feasible BACT options on economic grounds without any accompanying economic analysis. DAQ eliminated top-level BACT for PM emissions from the processing of aggregate, disturbed and exposed areas, and storage piles. See ITA PDF pp. 5-6; Sahu Comments, Ex. 1, Section E.2. If DAQ rejects BACT control options on the basis of economic infeasibility, it must have some source-specific factual basis and evidence of cost, competitiveness, comparisons of costs and emissions assumptions for similar controls at other facilities, or other cost analyses in the record for doing so. DAQ must redo its BACT analysis to provide these factual bases for the eliminated of top-level BACT for the processing of aggregate, haul roads, disturbed and exposed areas, as also requested by Dr. Sahu in Exhibit 1, Section E.2. The bases for any cost analysis must be documented, so that DAQ and the public can review and evaluate the cost data associated with the controls.
Moreover, DAQ is internally inconsistent about the economic infeasibility of watering controls. For example, DAQ finds that “watering and best management practices is economically feasible” for processing aggregate and for unpaved haul roads, but that use of water sprayers in disturbed and expensed areas is neither economically feasible nor “environmentally friendly.” ITA PDF pp. 6-8. Without any description or data on the quantities of water used for some control options and not others, as well as frequency of application, any other design information in the record, it is impossible for the public to evaluate DAQ’s BACT conclusions. The conclusions are also internally contradictory.
Lack of practical enforceability of BACT selected. As explained in Dr. Sahu’s comments, Exhibit 1, Section E.3.A through E.3.E., the technical basis for the claimed control efficiencies and enforceability of the BACT reviewed for the processing of aggregate, haul roads, drilling and blasting, disturbed and exposed areas, storages is not apparent in the record. DAQ must also define best management practices, provide any test data or conditions relied on to support the control efficiencies, or provide details and descriptions regarding the implementation of selected controls that support their enforceability, as a practical matter. See Utah Admin. Code R307-401 5 2; Sierra Club, 2009 UT 76, ¶ 48. Please address in detail all of Dr. Sahu’s questions in Section E.3.A through E.3.E. of his technical comments.
Unpaved haul roads. DAQ found paving the entry road feasible but eliminated road paving for the interior haul roads in the quarry as “infeasible” due to the “dynamic nature of the work.” But DAQ did not explain in detail why the “dynamic nature” of the work made paving interior haul roads infeasible. Technical infeasibility means that physical, chemical, and engineering principles show that a control technique will not work on the emissions source under review. DAQ has not demonstrated that paving of the haul roads is not technically feasible. Importantly, would the dynamic or mobile nature of the work affect some haul roads more than others? Are there more permanent haul roads that could be paved? DAQ must provide much more information to claim dynamic work as a reason to exclude the top haul road control technology from the BACM/BACT analysis. This is especially because paving of haul roads along with sweeping and watering has been required as BACT for haul roads. This suggests that DAQ and Granite are instead making economic arguments against paving the roads, which, as discussed above, is unsubstantiated in the record.
We are attaching and incorporating herein as Exhibit 2 Western Resource Advocates’ comments on Utah’s proposed PM2.5 redesignation to attainment and SIP Plan revisions from December 2020. These comments submitted on behalf of, inter alia, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, detail several examples in which paving of haul roads was required as BACT where practical (taking into account when the weight of the haul trucks would frequently damage the pavement), and watering, chemical dust suppression, and other controls were required for the remaining haul roads. See Exhibit 2, PDF pp. 33-34. DAQ should analyze these comparators in conducting its BACT analysis.
There is no justification for DAQ to eliminate paving of haul roads entirely as a control measure for the quarry, unless and until it is adequately demonstrated that there are specific circumstances at the interior mine haul roads that justify eliminating a commonly applied BACT control measure as BACT for the mine haul roads. Moreover, in order to ensure a specific control efficiency, DAQ must specify minimum amounts (per unit of measure and based on factors such as temperature and wind speed) of water application and chemical dust suppressant application to unpaved haul roads as well as identify time between applications and impose recordkeeping and reporting requirements to ensure compliance and accountability.
Drilling and Blasting. DAQ selected “a dust collection system” and “wet blasting” as BACT for controlling PM emissions from drilling and blasting but provides no design information on the dust control system or wet blasting in the record. Again, without any description or data on the dust control system or quantities of water used for wet blasting, or any other design information in the record, it is impossible for the public to evaluate DAQ’s BACT assumptions and conclusions.
Disturbed and Exposed Areas, and storage piles. Even more egregious, DAQ eliminates water application as BACT for the disturbed and exposed areas as not economic or environmentally friendly, and selects a “minimal disturbance strategy,” with no detail or description of how this strategy will be implemented or will reduce the propensity for dust 6 generation, especially to the tune of 50%, as claimed by DAQ. Dr. Sahu opines that DAQ’s conclusion that natural vegetation will grow back at a sufficient rate to revegetate in area in dry and drought-like condition, so as to be effective as a dust control mechanism for previously disturbed areas, when the mine continues to progress to additional 10-acre areas in Phase 2, is not reasonable or biologically feasible on its face. See Exhibit 1, Section E.3.D & E.2 DAQ also eliminated, with no support, the option of enclosing the storage piles, but then selected water application, again without support or consideration of Granite’s access to water, water quantities necessary to achieve 75% reductions, and other important details to ensure the lowest percentage reduction of PM emissions is achievable.
Vagueness and lack of enforceability of “watering” controls. DAQ’s use of the “water application” and “watering” for several BACT selections is vague and unenforceable and cannot be monitored. “Watering” in this context could mean anything from moistening or sprinkling to drenching. “Watering” should be defined in each BACT analysis using that control method.3 DAQ must respond and provide more detail on the design, enforceability, and efficiency of these BACT selections to justify their use. DAQ also has not addressed Granite’s lack of water rights or access to water sufficient to undertake dust mitigation efforts. As Dr. Sahu suggests, Ex. 1, Section E.3.D., if watering controls are infeasible for some control options, that may mean that this site, due to lack of water for dust control may not be suitable for mining activities. DAQ must explain this inconsistency.
b. DAQ’s use of the opacity limits in Utah’s fugitive dust rule are not BACT because the limits are unenforced (and unenforceable) in this proposed AO
Throughout the BACT analysis and in the special conditions for the proposed AO, DAQ has essentially chosen to impose the opacity limits in the fugitive dust rule as BACT for this quarry. But the fugitive dust and fugitive emissions rule at Utah Admin Code. R307-309 is unenforceable as written and, in any case, is not enforced in this permit. Thus, the fugitive dust rule and the proposed permit, with their unenforceable and unenforced opacity limits, do not constitute BACT. For UPHE’s comments on this rule and its deficiencies, as well as its lack of enforceability and efficacy in reducing PM, PM10, and PM2.5, emissions, please see the following comments, which we attach to this letter and/or incorporate by reference, with further details regarding this argument:
• Dr. Sahu’s Technical Comments, Exhibit 1, at pages 3-4; and
• WRA Comments on Utah PM2.5 Maintenance Submission, Exhibit 2, pages 18 through 29 (starting with “3. The Director’s BACT/BACM Analysis for Fugitive Dust Emissions is Inadequate.”).
Because there is no meaningful enforcement of the fugitive dust rule, there is likewise no enforceability or practical ability to enforce the opacity limits established concurrent with BACT and throughout the proposed special permit conditions. As discussed in Dr. Sahu’s technical comments, Sections B.5. and E.3.A-E, the imposition of EPA Method 9 for verification of compliance is not enforceable during nighttime operations and has not been shown to be readily useable in the unique topographical and meteorological conditions of the canyon. And it is not enforced by this permit with any defined frequency, meaning the sporadic compliance evaluations in the fugitive dust rule will apply. DAQ only monitors extremely variable dust emissions (variable because of factors such as wind speed, temperature, number of acres disturbed) once every 18 months or so and so fails to monitor or enforce the rule. At the gravel pits at Point of the Mountain, monitoring of the fugitive dust rule’s 10% opacity limit rarely happens. This means that neither the public, the state, nor even the source knows whether these emissions limits will be met on a continuous or even regular basis. This is not BACT. See Sierra Club, 2009 UT 76, ¶ 48.
In establishing BACT and related fugitive dust emission limits, DAQ must consider the reality that the operator does not monitor whether it is meeting the 10% opacity limit and therefore has no idea whether it is complying with the fugitive dust rule and no basis on which to modify its behavior to adequately control fugitive emissions; Method 9 does not provide any way to monitor compliance with the rule when conditions are not exact, thus its usefulness as a compliance mechanism is significantly limited (daytime hours only, need to meet strict observer/source/sun relationships for valid readings/lack of continuous measurements, etc.); and that the fugitive dust rule is ineffectual at mitigating emissions and emissions are uncontrolled during wind events when speeds are 25 miles per hour or more, which occurs regularly in Parley’s Canyon. See Sahu Comments, Ex. 1 at p. 27.4
DAQ must consider and account for real world evidence that the fugitive dust rule is not working to reduce PM emissions to their maximum degree of reduction, per BACT requirements. For example, as shown in Millcreek’s Comments on the I-80 South Quarry— which are being submitted to DAQ separately, and which UPHE also attaches here as Exhibit 3—fugitive dust controls are ineffective at the Kilgore quarry just down the road from this proposal. See Figure 1 in Millcreek’s comments. The photo in Figure 1, taken on July 15, 2023, at 9:20am driving eastbound on I-80 past Kilgore, is recopied below:
2. DAQ has not adequately shown the quarry will meet applicable National Primary Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM10 and PM2.5
In order to issue an approval order for the mine, the DAQ must also ensure proposed source will meet the applicable requirements of the National Primary and Secondary Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Utah Admin. Code R307-401-8(1)(b)(vii). That is, DAQ must show that emissions from the proposed mine will not cause or contribute to a violation of the NAAQS.
As Dr. Sahu notes in his Technical Comments, Exhibit 1, incorporated in full here, (1) DAQ’s emissions inputs and inventory are unreasonable and grossly underestimate emissions from the proposed quarry, and (2) these errors are fatal to all of DAQ’s other analyses attempting to support this proposed AO, such as air dispersion modeling (for which a defensible accounting of emissions is critical), BACT (because accurate emissions estimates are crucial for an assessment of cost-effectiveness, even though this was not performed in the present instance), and so on. This is of central import because the results of the modeling show that PM10 (the only pollutant that was modeled) concentrations are very close (within a few percentage points) to exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Phases 1 and 2 of the mine.
First, the emissions inventory in the ITA is miscalculated and grossly inaccurate. It does not begin to provide a reliable basis for evaluating whether this permit is likely to result in exceedances of the NAAQS in the airshed affected by the mine. Please see Dr. Sahu’s Comments for details about why the emissions inventory for PM10/PM2.5 is unreliable and under predicts the potential to emit for these pollutants, and other pollutants including criteria (NOx, VOC, CO, SO2, etc.) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). See Ex. 1, Sections B, C, and D, pp. 2-3, 5-29.
The term “potential to emit” (PTE) means the maximum possible emissions, subject to the design of the equipment, work activities, and any enforceable permit limits. See Utah Admin. Code 307-401-2 (definition of potential to emit). As discussed above, the permit limits DAQ proposes for PM10/PM2.5 are not enforceable in any sort of practical matter. And in Section C of his Technical Comments, Dr. Sahu analyzes why DAQ’s estimate of PTE is flawed, including for its reliance on average and poorly rated emissions factors and the drop equation in AP-42, that EPA has warned against using, and for its use of problematic assumptions from the Trinity application, including WRAP and NIOSH documents. See Ex. 1, Section C, pp. 5-26.
Second, these errors in PTE calculations spoil DAQ’s air dispersion modeling. In Dr. Sahu’s opinion, the modeling is not only based on inaccurate assumptions and inputs, it also uses other data that likely underestimates or is not representative of the unique topography of the mine’s location in Parley’s Canyon. For example, DAQ inappropriately relied upon windspeed data collected at the Salt Lake City airport, a site that is entirely different topologically and has different wind characteristics, and background concentrations at monitors miles from Parley’s Canyon. See Sahu Comments, Ex. 1 at 27-28. While meteorological data from the airport may be useful to a certain extent, it does not capture the unique nature of canyon winds, which are a well-known phenomenon. Granite was not required to collect on-site meteorological data or background (i.e., current, pre-mining activity baseline) concentration data at the site, despite sufficient time to do so; nor did Granite or DAQ use more representative data, like meteorological data from closer monitoring sites available from the Wind Alert website,5 in the modeling analysis. Unless and until DAQ modeling accounts for more representative and unique canyon winds, the air model fails to be an adequate predictor of the impacts of dust from the mine on concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5.
Indeed, accounting for all modeling errors that underestimate and/or otherwise fail to accurately represent the PM10 and PM2.5 emissions from this quarry, it may become apparent that the mine would in fact qualify as a major source. DAQ recognizes that the quarry is located in the nonattainment areas for PM2.5, ozone, and SO2. In these circumstances, DAQ could not rely on BACT and would need to analyze and implement the Lowest Achievable Emissions Rate (LAER), defined as the most stringent emission limitation required under a SIP or achieved in practice for a class or category of sources. It is possible that the flaws in DAQ’s emission inventory here may have led to a premature determination that the proposed mine would be a minor source of air pollutants and will therefore not be subject to the requirements of a major source of air emissions. See Sahu Comments, Ex. 1, Section B.2. This is a serious flaw and one that DAQ must address by redoing its modeling and explaining in detail why the deficiencies identified in Dr. Sahu’s comments do not result in an inaccurate estimate of PM emissions in this proposed AO.
Moreover, DAQ must look at the impact of fugitive dust emissions from the quarry on both the PM2.5 and PM10 NAAQS. In light of forthcoming action by the Biden Administration to lower the annual PM2.5 NAAQS, it is critical for DAQ to consider protecting both the 2006 24-hour PM2.5 standard, as well as the current and newly proposed annual standards.6 As EPA has made clear, a lower PM2.5 annual standard is necessary to protect public health and the environment. Particularly, in light of the failure of Utah’s fugitive dust rule to actually curb fugitive dust, DAQ must model this mine’s impacts on the PM2.5 NAAQS.
Windblown fugitive dust is a significant problem anytime there are strong winds in the Canyon and Salt Lake Valley. Add to this the likely expansion of other gravel pits in the Salt Lake Valley (including expansions that are already authorized and permitted), the unenforceability of fugitive dust rule and therefore its failure to ensure that dust from other sources is adequately controlled, the effects climate change and increased temperatures (making the application of water significantly less effective at reducing dust), and the rapid drying of the Great Salt Lake, all of which strongly suggest concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 may be even more significant than as indicated by looking at the past or present. In addition to the meteorological data from the airport and background concentrations of PM10 at the Hawthorne monitor, DAQ should add estimates of the dust from the mine that will reach various points in Salt Lake County to model overall concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 to determine whether those concentrations exceed the NAAQS at various locations (typically in a grid pattern) in the valley based on the cumulative impact of the mine and background concentrations. The NAAQS must be protected (not exceeded) all over the valley, including right near the proposed quarry and at the mouth of Parleys—not just at Hawthorne. Also, the contribution of the emissions from the quarry to PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations must be measured not only at Hawthorne, but also near the mine and at the mouth of Parleys. This is a substantial gap in DAQ’s analysis.
Finally, DAQ cannot just assume that increasing summertime wildfire events and associated PM exceedances will not be considered a violation of the NAAQS. It is incumbent on DAQ to model whether the proposed quarry will cause or contribute to a violation of the NAAQS during wildfire events, without assuming that those events will be counted as exceptional events. Similarly, DAQ must include expected emissions from Great Salt Lake in its modeling efforts.
3. The project’s description, and particularly its phasing, lacks clarity and fails to explore Granite’s true intent for the quarry
Another issue implicating the whole of DAQ’s analysis, modeling, and proposed Approval Order is that the AO does not appear to acknowledge or reflect Granite’s true intent to develop a larger mining operation. Because the project definition and description, and especially the phasing of the mine, are unclear, the public cannot adequately understand or respond to DAQ’s ITA.
As Dr. Sahu explains, Ex. 1 at B.1, it appears that only the small mine option will be permitted by this action, but the phasing of the mine suggests that the “disturbed or exposed” areas may successively grow as the years pass. Per Dr. Sahu:
[T]he project consists of Phase 1 (which will involve an initial year of pioneering, bootstrapping, and other actions) followed by Phase 2, which will be the rest of the active life of the mine. In each Phase, particularly Phase 2, it appears that the disturbed area will be limited to 10 acres. However, it is not clear, as the operations move within the mine area, why disturbed areas will not grow in size as operations continue into future years due to the continued emissions from disturbed areas from prior years that cannot be revegetated properly. There is nothing in the record to indicate that a 10-acre disturbed area in Year N will stop ceasing to be a source of fugitive PM10/PM2.5 emissions in Years N+1, N+2, etc. until such time as natural vegetation growth may inhibit such emissions. I ask the DAQ to therefore explain, in detail, how the actual Phase 2 portion will not grow, at least as far as disturbed areas from prior years are concerned.
Moreover, from Granite’s submission, it appears that the company’s intent is to conduct “quarrying operations” “throughout the facility.” Thus, the limit for mining activities in this AO is the “facility boundary” identified in the modeling analysis—but the draft permit currently does not reference or define the “facility boundary” that was the basis of the modeling analysis. DAQ must clarify the scope and phasing of this project and explain how the agency will verify that any given area has been reclaimed over the years of operation of the mine such that those areas could qualify as revegetated and no longer be a source of fugitive PM10 and PM2.5 emissions. Please also respond to other comments by Dr. Sahu at Exhibit 1, Section B.1 and E.3.D (regarding the minimal disturbance strategy).
In addition, DAQ does not appear to have considered Granite’s publicly stated intent to develop a larger operation, as indicated in the DOGM decision on S035055 and Granite’s July 2022 Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), attached as Exhibit 4, which was filed after Granite’s small mine NOI was filed, but which encompassed 634 acres. DAQ is permitted to look at the long-term intentions for the property, and EPA guidance indicates that DAQ should do so.
We also reference and incorporate Millcreek’s Comments on this issue, and the extent of Granite’s common ownership or control of new and existing quarries. See Ex. 3. Any AO should not be issued until the true intent of the applicant is made plain and the full scope of the permit is described so the public can understand DAQ’s permitting decision and its impact on their environment.
4. Approval of this quarry contravenes DAQ’s statutory purpose to protect human health and safety
As outlined by the Utah Air Conservation Act, Utah Code Ann. §§ 19-2-101 to 127, DAQ has a broad mandate to protect public health in the permitting of industrial sources of pollution. Beyond the consequences to air quality, this proposed mine will have other adverse impacts on public health and safety that have not been addressed or analyzed in any way by the DAQ’s ITA.
We further demonstrate below, and in Exhibit 5, that even if NAAQS compliance is achieved for PM10 and PM2.5, public health would still not be sufficiently protected as required by state law cited below. Fugitive dust from mining operations contains additional health hazards not addressed by EPA’s NAAQS, and therefore failing to achieve compliance with the NAAQS in this case allows even greater public exposure to health hazards beyond those purported to be addressed by the NAAQS.
Thanks to the geographic features left by the ancient Lake Bonneville, there is no shortage of suitable sites on the Wasatch Front to quarry limestone and mine gravel. Given the health consequences of the fugitive dust and diesel emissions inherent in all such operations, the state should establish a framework whereby new mining operations at sites like Parley’s Canyon, that involve exceptionally high environmental and societal costs, are not allowed. In this case, the general provisions of the Air Conservation Act allow such a framework, as we will show throughout these comments.
According to the Utah Air Conservation Act,
It is the policy of this state and the purpose of this chapter to achieve and maintain levels of air quality which will protect human health and safety, and to the greatest degree practicable, prevent injury to plant and animal life and property, foster the comfort and convenience of the people, promote the economic and social development of this state, and facilitate the enjoyment of the natural attractions of this state.
Utah Code Ann. 19-2-101.
Moreover, Utah Code Ann. § 19-1-102(3) states that it is the duty of the Department of Environmental Quality to
safeguard public health and quality of life by protecting and improving environmental quality while considering the benefits to public health, the impacts on economic development, property, wildlife, tourism, business, agriculture, forests, and other interests, and the costs to the public and to industry . . . .
Allowing development of this mine at this particular location would endanger and certainly would not “protect human health and safety,” and would not “to the greatest degree practicable, prevent injury to plant and animal life and property, foster the comfort and convenience of the people.” Furthermore, neither does “the economic and social development of this state” provide an excuse for allowing the permit because it would be a net economic harm to the community at large.
This canyon is the most highly trafficked and publicly used canyon in the state. At its intended scale, the mine would dominate the eastern gateway to the state’s capital city, a few miles from the mouth of the canyon. The aesthetic harm alone would have major adverse economic repercussions, detracting from the vistas of the canyon otherwise enjoyed by tourists of all types, skiers, conventioneers, film festival participants, and everyone traveling from Salt Lake City to internationally famous Park City and back. It would ruin the recreational value of the canyon for hikers, cross country skiers, and wildlife observers.
The watershed value of Parley’s Canyon would be impaired (as discussed further below), which would have economic repercussions, especially given that the climate trends will exacerbate the valley’s water crisis going forward. The near-certain prospect of deepening longterm drought will be the single greatest constraint on Salt Lake City’s future economic growth. The mine would obviously result in significant loss of canyon forests, including beyond the boundaries of the mine as explained later. The property values of Mt. Aire residents would be drastically affected because the entire market appeal of homes owned in the area is their bucolic natural setting.
The routine blasting necessary to conduct the mine’s operations will not only make these homes unlivable from a lifestyle point of view, it is likely to physically damage their foundations.
The advantage claimed by the applicant of proximity to future construction sites is likely wrong because all indications are that most of the future growth of the Salt Lake Valley will be on the West side, especially the southwest part of the valley, far removed from this site. Gravel can be obtained in so many other places, and obtaining aggregate from this site offers no unique economic benefit to the community—though it does entail unique economic costs. It is safe to say that economic losses of not allowing the mine will be exclusive to the property owner, Jesse Lassley. Mr. Lassley only recently bought the property and it is clear from the time of his filing that he did so with the sole purpose of exploiting the property as a mine. Only relatively minor investments in this speculative project have been made so far.
Conversely, the mine would impose substantial economic loss on the Salt Lake Valley as a whole, for the reasons mentioned above. Therefore the Utah Air Conservation Act, and its provision that public benefits like air quality be balanced by economic growth and opportunity does not justify allowing a mine in this environmentally and economically sensitive location. Overall, there is no net public benefit to permitting this mine, but there is substantial net public harm. The broad language used by the Air Conservation Act when articulating the DAQ’s role as protector of public health, environmental quality, forests, wildlife, property values, and tourism provide ample statutory authority for the DAQ to balance the heavy societal costs of this mining project against the exceedingly narrow economic benefits that accrue primarily to its owner, and to deny this permit.
A. Health hazards of airborne fugitive mining dust
Exhibit 5 describes how the medical research on the public health consequences of air pollution has steadily and consistently evolved over the course of several decades and 70,000 published research papers, to conclude that it is more harmful to human health than previously assumed, and many forms of air pollution harm human health at any level, regardless of federal and state standards that allow substantial concentrations of a given pollutant. This is especially true of fine particulate matter. EPA standards have not reflected the overall conclusions of that research.
Exhibit 5 provides detailed evidence that the PM2.5 NAAQS are increasingly inadequate when evaluated by the evolving medical evidence. We note here that the other relevant PM standard in this case, PM10, is the only PM for which DAQ did any modeling. The 24-hour NAAQS for PM10 has not been updated since its inception in 1987 and the EPA still hasn’t promulgated an annual PM10 standard.
In contrast, California has responded to the current medical evidence about the harm to human health of exposure to PM10. It has adopted a 24 hr. PM10 standard of 50 ug/m3, one third as high as EPA’s (and therefore Utah’s), and also has an annual standard of 20 ug/m3, whereas EPA and Utah have no standard. Given that DAQ’s modeling showed the mine would come close to creating PM10 concentrations above the EPA’s PM10 standard, it is safe to say that if California’s more modern standards were in force in Utah, this proposed facility would have been summarily rejected. We believe that the DAQ has the ample authority to require an annual standard for PM10 concentrations in the absence of an explicit EPA standard. The need for such a standard is demonstrated by the analysis underlying the annual standard adopted in California.
The disparity in PM10 standards between Utah and California has real public health impacts. Studies of human exposure to dust (much of which is PM10) show startling results. For example, residential populations chronically exposed to dust from such things as the desiccated Aral Sea, Owens Lake, and the Sahara Desert reveal a wide range of poor health outcomes, including shortened life expectancy, high rates of cancer, infectious diseases, respiratory and heart disease, reproductive pathologies, adverse pregnancy outcomes, anemia, birth defects, and infant mortality. 8 Even short term inhalation of the type of particles typical of gravel pit dust are associated with increased hospitalizations for heart disease.
The majority of PM from mining and gravel pit operations consists of particles large enough to be inhaled, but captured by the upper respiratory tract, i.e., PM10, and therefore their health hazard is often thought to be limited to respiratory disease. But fugitive dust also contains significant amounts of smaller, more dangerous particles, such as PM2.5 and ultrafine PM. Furthermore, those smaller particles stay suspended in the atmosphere longer, they disperse more widely, penetrate homes more easily, and are more readily inhaled and distributed throughout the body. The average lifetime of dust particles in the atmosphere can be as little as a few hours for particles larger than PM10, to more than 10 days for ultrafines.
On a global scale it is estimated that atmospheric dust particles caused about 400,000 premature deaths by cardiopulmonary disease.8 Inhalation of dust in hot, dry weather can damage mucosa of the nose and throat enhancing the risk of bacterial infection. Iron oxides embedded in dust particles may further facilitate infection risk.
On a global scale it is estimated that atmospheric dust particles caused about 400,000 premature deaths by cardiopulmonary disease.8 Inhalation of dust in hot, dry weather can damage mucosa of the nose and throat enhancing the risk of bacterial infection. Iron oxides embedded in dust particles may further facilitate infection risk.
Residents of communities near gravel pits may have even greater exposure than gravel pit employees. In addition to mining activity exceeding a 40-hour work week, disturbed raw land surfaces become a source of dust whenever the wind exceeds about 10 mph, and the dust that lands on their yards, driveways, and inside their homes perpetuates the exposure, and is resuspended during a family’s daily activity, extending their exposure and magnifying the health risks.
Persistent drought and excessive heat in the Western US are the predicted results of the rapidly evolving climate crisis. That will increase fugitive dust from the mine, and will make it increasingly more difficult to control in the future.
Diesel emissions from the heavy equipment involved with the grading project will add significantly to the health hazard to nearby residents. Diesel exhaust is a proven carcinogen, revealed by recent research to be even more toxic than previously thought. A recent landmark study indicates that long term exposure to even low levels of diesel exhaust raises the risk of dying from lung cancer about 50% for residents who live near industrial operations, and about 300% for the workers.
B. Unique Toxicity of Crystalline Silica
In addition to the health consequences of dust pollution, gravel pit/limestone quarry dust carries with it another dimension of hazard, not found in farming dust or dust from desiccated lakes like Great Salt Lake–crystalline silica (CS). This is an air pollution related threat from mining operations that the state of Utah has made no effort to control or even monitor. Respirable CS will be created by crushing limestone and quartz.
CS has been classified as a class 1 lung carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It has also been identified as a trigger for other incurable, debilitating and fatal lung diseases, such as silicosis and pulmonary fibrosis, and autoimmune diseases. Silicosis essentially scars lung tissue, decreases lung compliance and function, and increases the risk of serious lung infections such as tuberculosis. These outcomes have been mistakenly assumed by some to be only occupational risks. But for populations downwind of such operations they will be exposed in their homes, schools, parks, and playgrounds virtually all day, every day. CS will infiltrate home and schools’ heating and cooling systems where much of it can evade filtration. The CS dust and health risk is cumulative and will steadily increase to nearby residents over the lifetime of the mine.
The amount of CS dust from this area, such as the Harper mine on the north side of Parley’s Canyon, has not been assessed. But other studies in many other locations show wide variability in the percentage of respirable dust particles that are CS, anywhere from 1% to as much as 95%,8 depending on the type of mining operation and geographic location.
The EPA has not set a National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for CS, however they do offer a “benchmark” of 3 ug/m3, but EPA admitted they did not factor in people with existing lung disease, children, or pregnant mothers, and assumed that the public’s exposure would be less than in the workplace, something that is not likely true for Parley’s Canyon residents who live near the grading operations. Only a few states have established a “benchmark” level for ambient levels of CS. Utah is not one of them. Those state levels range from New York, the strictest at 0.06 ug/m3, to 3 ug/m3 in California, the same as the EPA. Studies from California recorded air samples from monitors downwind of gravel pit operations 19 with concentrations of crystalline silica ranging from 9.4 to 62.4 ug/m3, many times greater than every one of those benchmarks, and orders of magnitude greater than New York’s—the strictest8.
The age of silica particles matters. Crystalline silica is particularly high in industrial settings, like mining operations that expose freshly fractured solid rock (e.g., crushing, grinding, blasting, cutting),8 which is precisely the nature of proposed gravel pit operations in Parley’s Canyon. Dust from newly fractured rock, is composed of microscopic particles that have sharper edges compared to “weathered” material, and inhalation of those particles can do more damage to the microscopic alveoli which constitute the bulk of lung architecture.
By virtue of their close proximity, nearby residents are subjected to the same higher risk, industrial type of silica as gravel pit employees. While chronic silicosis is usually thought of as an occupational disease, significant rates of non-occupational silicosis have been documented in residents exposed to chronic dust exposure.8 It should also be emphasized that with community exposure as opposed to occupational exposure, the demographics are much different. Mine workers are all adults, whereas those exposed in the community include pregnant mothers and children who are at greater risk from the consequences of the CS exposure.
C. Water Contamination Likely
In addition to the possibility of contaminating ground water below the mine, chronic, persistent mining dust will settle on top of the water in reservoirs northeast of the proposed mine site. Numerous studies have proven that wildfire pollution contaminates surface waters, including streams, lakes, and reservoirs with sediments, algae-promoting nutrients, and heavy metals. There is every reason to suspect similar contamination is possible with persistent, fugitive mining dust settling on top of, and washing into reservoirs and Parley’s Creek and Millcreek.
The Tree Farm NOI states, “There are no deleterious or acid forming materials, nor shall any of these materials be left on site. If this type of material becomes present, Tree Farm will take preventive actions to mitigate impacts.” Acid mine drainage is likely wherever there are pyrite or copper ores. There is nothing in the NOI that indicates whether any analysis has been done for the presence of those minerals in the rock that is planned for mining. That the proposal dismisses the issue with “Tree Farm will take preventive actions to mitigate impacts” if “this type of material becomes present” speaks to the inadequacy of the NOI.
The NOI states, “There will be ‘about feet’ in vertical separation between the quarrying activities and the potential to encounter groundwater.” The actual depth of the groundwater that is at risk has been left out of the NOI. In other words, the NOI does not actually address the possibility of contaminating ground water.
D. Required Water Consumption Would Be Extreme
As discussed above, DAQ has not even attempted to explain or demonstrate how the quarry has access to water and water rights sufficient to undertake dust mitigation efforts. In addition, the consequences of the disappearance of the Great Salt Lake have received widespread publicity in local, national, and even international media. Virtually everyone agrees that water conservation to preserve inlet flow to the lake is critical to maintaining quality of life on the Wasatch Front. Dr. Gregory Carling, Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Geological Sciences at Brigham Young University has estimated that industrial sites on the Wasatch Front, like this proposed mine, require between 200,000 and 1,000,000 gallons of water per acre per year for adequate dust suppression. See Exhibit 7. The water consumption inherent in this project is yet another reason for the state to deny the permit.
E. Parley’s Canyon Vegetation Will Be Degraded Beyond the Mine
Quarry dust will settle throughout Parley’s Canyon having an effect far beyond the mine’s property in harming the vegetation, acutely and chronically. The dust adversely impacts vegetation by both chemical and physical processes. “Dust may affect photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration and allow the penetration of phytotoxic gaseous pollutants.”8 “Long-term depositions change the photochemistry leading to retarded leaf growth.” 8 “Dust deposition on leaf surfaces reduces synthesis of chlorophyll-a.”8 Dust may also occlude the plants’ stomata, which further interferes with gas exchange and increases water stress. Alkaline dust associated with limestone can be particularly toxic to plants, including leaving them more vulnerable to microorganism and insect pest damage.
Chemical dust suppressants like magnesium chloride can migrate through soil via precipitation. This will add further stress to plants and trees that are already likely to be damaged or killed by the mine’s fugitive dust, increasing the ecological consequences of the mine far beyond Lassley’s property. The impact is greater during summer months, exactly the time when dust suppressants are used.
Constant use of any dust suppressant chemicals like salts that add chloride to the environment of the area will have adverse effects on aquatic life in Parley’s Creek.8 New research shows these road salts, “hurt ecology, contaminate drinking water supplies and mobilize harmful chemicals, such as radon, mercury and lead.”8
F. The Quarry Reclamation Plan Is Not a Serious Proposal
Granite admits that there will be no reclamation until the life of the mine has ended, presumably in 100 years, and offers $3,144,000 as a reclamation bond “for a worst-case scenario.” This is a tiny fraction of what actual reclamation would cost now, and obviously much more so in 100 years. Certainly, this is not to be taken seriously by any government entity. The mine’s walls will consist of steps of nearly 70 degrees. The NOI says that 6 inches of topsoil will be spread over the mine’s scars, presumably including the walls, and then seeded. No vegetation will adhere to slopes that steep, nor will 6 inches of top soil.
G. Wildfire Risk
Heat and sparks from heavy equipment can ignite wildfires, especially in a forested area. Exhaust systems on vehicles and machinery can reach temperatures up to 1,000 degrees during operation. The machinery can create sparks by hitting rocks or hard surfaces. It only takes one spark to create a wildfire disaster.8 Beyond the watershed destruction from the mine itself, a wildfire in the area could be a disaster for the rest of the watershed, a critical source of water for the Salt Lake Valley as noted above.
H. DAQ must consider Granite’s poor environmental compliance record and history of ethical failures before issuing this AO
We have found references to Granite Construction violating at least 40 federal and state environmental regulations dating back to 1992. See Exhibit 6 for list of references. All of these violations resulted in fines that Granite Construction was required to pay to the relevant regulatory authority. The total sum of fines connected to the 40 violations we have found so far is over $1.4 million. Granite’s track record makes this proposed mine approval even more ominous.
The specific environmental regulations that Granite Construction violated relate to air and water pollution, failing to control fugitive dust, hazardous waste, operating without a permit, violating air quality standards and Clean Air Act, and violating the Clean Water Act. DAQ must consider Granite’s poor environmental compliance record in issuing it an AO to mine.
Granite Construction also has history of ethical failures that sharply conflicts with their public claims of meeting or exceeding applicable environmental laws and regulations. Granite’s track record on ethical behavior should be reason alone for denying their application. This is not a history that justifies any confidence that the company will protect the public interest.
In 2015, Granite entered into a non-prosecution agreement and paid more than $8 million for engaging in a scheme to fraudulently claim credit for work performed by a minority owned business.
In 2021, Granite admitted to providing potentially misleading information to auditors and concluded that the company’s previously issued financial statements and related disclosures should no longer be relied upon for the years 2017 and 2018, and for the first three quarters of the year 2019. Granite agreed to pay $12 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to settle charges of financial reporting fraud. The SEC charged Granite and former Senior Vice President Dale Swanberg with fraud on accusations of inflating the financial performance of Swanberg’s civil engineering division.
Granite’s involvement in the Parley’s mine was publicly disclosed in January 2022. On January 12, Granite made $10,000 in political contributions ($5,000 to the Utah Republican Senate Campaign Committee and $5,000 to the Utah House Republican Election Committee). These were Granite’s first political contributions at the state level since contributing $20,000 to the Critical Infrastructure Materials Coalition in 2019, prior to the passage of the Critical Infrastructure Materials bill (which added protections for gravel pit operators).
DAQ should conduct due diligence into Granite Construction’s environmental track record and consider stricter compliance standards and monitoring in this permit to account for the company’s background.
For all of the reasons described above, along with the reasons described in comments attached to this letter and submitted by other groups, DAQ cannot and should not issue its proposed Approval Order Granite Construction for the I-80 South Quarry.