Utah DAQ’s permit for Parley’s Mine Violates Federal and State Law

State permit fails to protect public from the mine’s dust and pollution

Multiple environmental and public interest groups filed comments on July 27 to the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) identifying numerous state rules, regulations, and statutes that are being violated or ignored with the DAQ’S Intent to Approve (ITA) a limestone quarry/gravel pit for California-based Granite Construction in the heart of Parley’s Canyon.

Comments submitted by the public detailed a long list of reasons why DAQ should have rejected the mine:  constant fugitive dust in a very windy location, irrevocable damage to the beauty of a beloved canyon and eastern gateway to the city, high water consumption required to suppress the dust, damage to offsite vegetation from dust and dust suppressant chemicals, damage to the watershed and water quality, risk of wildfire from heavy equipment, and risk of damage to near-by homes from mine blasting. 

“If this permit is allowed to stand, failing to prevent the destruction of beautiful Parley’s Canyon and a critical, irreplaceable watershed, it would amount to an abject failure of state government.  We had experts review state law and this permit, and we believe state law not only provides the tools to stop this mine, but obligates us to do so,” said Dr. Brian Moench, President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

As a Utahn, I’m devastated at the thought of scarring a spectacularly beautiful landscape that helps to define this region. As a physician, I am deeply concerned about the potential health implications for the hundreds of thousands of Utahans living directly downwind of this proposed mine. As the father of two small children being raised near the mouth of parleys canyon, I’m despondent by the thought of the potential fugitive dust they might one day be breathing, said E. Tom Nelson, ER Physician and Board Member of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Despite Utah law heavily stacked in favor of industry, the DAQ green lit this mine using inadequate and incorrect data and flawed methodology. The whole point of requiring a permit is to protect public health. But hardly anything in this permit will do that.” 

This could be the worst possible place on the Wasatch Front for a limestone quarry, as there are almost countless other sites to mine gravel on the Wasatch Front that would have less public health, environmental, and economic consequences said, Jonny Vasic, Executive Director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Over 200,000 people live within a few miles of the mouth of Parley’s Canyon, and will be downwind of the mine’s fugitive dust virtually 24/7, 365 days a year. No community, especially one with children and pregnant mothers, should tolerate this kind of assault on their health.

Numerous improper technical assumptions were made by DAQ, including many that the EPA warned against using. That led almost certainly to a wholesale underestimation about how much dust and diesel pollution this mine would produce. Utah families deserve so much better than this.

Below are photos of fugitive dust from the current Parley’s mine, and the quarry in North Salt Lake, all of which illustrate the failure of DAQ regulations, implementation, and oversight to protect public health.

Below is a more technical description of flaws identified in this permit by consultant Ranajit Sahu, PhD, which citizens may eventually use to formally challenge the legality of the permit.  You can find the technical comments that were submitted to DAQ and Dr. Sahu full analysis here.

1) The emission production estimates are seriously flawed

– “The PM10 emissions from Granite Construction Company’s new I-80 South Quarry exceed the respective modeling threshold established in R307-410-4. Therefore, the PM10 emissions were modeled. This resulted in operating conditions being added to this permit limiting the times at which the source can operate various part of the facility.” (DAQ Project File page 2.

– “DAQ’s analysis shows that the results of the modeling show that PM10 (the only pollutant that was modeled) concentrations are very close (96.3%) to exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)”. (see the table and explanatory text on page 29 of Dr. Sahu’s comments)

 “For the reasons discussed in these comments, and in spite of DAQ staff’s recognition that the emissions inventory is a crucial aspect of its project evaluation,[1] the PTE emission inventory for particulate matter (of two sizes, PM10 and PM2.5) are grossly unsupported, inaccurate and unreliable.” (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 2)

“…any subsequent analysis or conclusion that relies on the emissions inventory is also unreliable and unsupported.  Importantly, this includes DAQ’s premature determination that the proposed mine will be a minor source of air pollutants and will therefore not be subject to the requirements of a major source of air emissions.”   (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 3)

2) The emission dispersion estimates are also seriously flawed.

“The first flaw is the use of surface meteorological data not collected at the proposed mine site with its complex topography but rather from the Salt Lake City airport, located some distance away with no showing or demonstration that this airport data, collected at a flat area (like all such data collected at any airport) is representative of the mine location, in a narrow canyon.” (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 3)

“Second, the modeling uses “background” concentration levels that are not shown to be representative of the mine location.  I note that there has been sufficient time for the project proponent to have collected both on-site meteorological data and also background (i.e., current, pre-mining activity baseline) concentration data at the site.” (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 3)

3) AP-42 Is An Inappropriate Source for Developing Emissions Estimates

“Emission factors in AP-42 are neither EPA-recommended emission limits . . . nor standards. . . Use of these factors as source-specific permit limits and/or as emission regulation compliance determination is not recommended by EPA.” (EPA memo to states quoted in Dr. Sahu’s comments page 7)

“As the U.S. EPA itself explicitly acknowledges, there are many flaws and short-comings inherent to its use of AP-42; the EPA accordingly cautions users to take those flaws into account. These caveats, however, are neither recognized nor respected in the DAQ review or by Granite and its consultant. As a result, the PTE emissions estimates noted earlier – the critical foundation of the proposed permits — are deeply flawed. The persistent bias introduced by this inappropriate reliance on the AP-42 is that resulting emissions projected are major underestimates.” (Dr. Sahu’s comments pages 6-7)

“EPA provided a summary table … showing that of all the available approaches for developing emissions estimates, AP-42 is the “last resort.” ”  (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 11)

“Yet, in spite of this clear warning, as I have noted above, almost the entirety of the present emissions analysis for PM10/PM2.5 are based on AP-42.” (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 12)

4. The Best Available Control Technology (BACT) Analysis is Conclusionary and is Unsupported

“The DAQ Engineer Review of the BACT appears to be a simple regurgitation of the BACT analysis provided by Granite/Trinity.  It does not appear to contain any additional research or verification by DAQ of the qualitative discussion presented by the consultant.”  (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 30) 

“A specific deficiency of the BACT analysis for various PM emitting activities is that often options are rejected based on economic grounds, with no accompanying economic analysis at all.” (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 30)

“The BACT analysis makes various claims about control efficiency, with no enforcement or verification provisions at all.” (Dr. Sahu’s comments page 30)

5. BACT review regarding PM Emissions from Disturbed and Exposed Areas suggests that this property is simply not suitable for mining activities.

“The BACT for addressing PM10/PM2.5 emissions from disturbed and exposed areas, which the DAQ admits can “…generate fugitive emissions by wind and continued activity on the disturbed soil…” is stated to be “minimum disturbance,” after the elimination of water, given the DAQ’s determination that “[T]he use of water sprayers is not economically feasible because of the large volume of water that would be needed to keep the entire area wet during operation. This is also not an environmentally friendly option due to the large amount of water consumption in an already drought-stricken area.” – I have previously noted the lack of any support for the determination that water use would not be economic.  If this is true, however, then that simply means that this site, due to lack of water for dust control (as has been repeatedly suggested for use in the prior BACT determinations above) may not be suitable for mining activities.”  (Dr. Sahu’s comments pages 32-33)

“After eliminating water application, the DAQ states that, for BACT, “[T]he source will operate using a minimal disturbance strategy. This will include leaving natural vegetation in for as long as possible and allowing natural vegetation to grow back as soon as possible.  The source will not allow visible emissions from disturbed and exposed areas to exceed 20% opacity on-site and 10% at the property boundary.” – what is meant by “minimal disturbance strategy” and how will it reduce the propensity for dust generation during the extensive dry season in this area, especially to the tune of 50% as imagined in the emissions calculations?  Since DAQ did not provide any details in the record, I ask that it do so now.  I especially ask the DAQ to provide enough detail to support its determination that there will be less than 20% opacity from disturbed areas, as measured by Method 9, and how this will be implemented.  In addition, I ask the DAQ to support its presumption that natural vegetation will grow back at a sufficient rate (with no water in the dry season) 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. It is my opinion that this is not biologically feasible.  Once the topsoil has been removed and the water retention properties of the soil altered, the ability to revegetate the disturbed area quickly is severely limited.  (Dr. Sahu’s comments pages 32-33)