Rio Tinto – Kennecott

Largest Polluter in Salt Lake County

Update: UPHE filed comments on the proposed Title V Permit issued by the DEQ for  Kennecott Utah Copper Smelter and Refinery.

Rio Tinto/Kennecott (RTK) contributes about 30% of the overall pollution in the Salt Lake County, ten times more than the next largest source, the Chevron oil refinery. Despite this, our state agencies have given RTK essentially a blank check to expand and pollute more.

Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, and Logan consistently rank in the top ten worst cities in the country for acute spikes in air pollution. The American Lung Association gives us the grade of “F” for particulate matter and ozone. For several days a year we typically have the worst air pollution in the country. The most populated counties in Utah are in violation of the many of the EPA’s national air quality standards.

RTK emits about 14,500 lbs of air pollutants per employee, far more than any other business. Currently RTK provides less than one fourth of 1% (0.25%) of the jobs in SL and Utah Counties, but about 30% of the pollution. The economic cost of RTK’s pollution is a community liability, likely greater than the taxes and wages that they pay.

Illegal Mining

RTK’s operations are permitted within the context of a Utah state plan to control the main components of air pollution. The Clean Air Act requires that the state plan (SIP) be approved by the EPA to ensure its effectiveness. However, the EPA last approved the SIP in 1994 and at that time limited RTK’s mining activity to 150 million tons moved a year. In violation of the law, Utah DAQ has issued permits for RTK to expand. These permits are not valid because the EPA has not approved any Utah SIP that allows for mining beyond the 150 million tons limit. For the last six years RTK has mined substantially more than the 1994 SIP limit.

RTK’s illegal mining activity has created increased pollution that adversely affects the health of virtually every person that lives in Salt Lake, Utah, and Davis Counties. The health consequences of the air pollution from RTK include:

  • Causing and aggravating many chronic diseases of the heart, lungs and brain
  • Higher rates of many types of poor pregnancy and birth outcomes
  • Higher rates of premature death.

Record Profits

Despite a still depressed worldwide economy, metal prices are projected to continue a steady rise. RTK can well afford to make their entire operations much cleaner.

The Bingham Pit is the largest mine in the world. There is no other mine anywhere near this large that is this close to this many people as acknowledged by RTK. Therefore, RTK should be required to control their pollution much better than anywhere else. After months of negotiating with RTK officers it became clear that RTK would not commit to meaningful pollution reduction unless forced to do so.

Mine Closing Would Leave Utahns With Multi-Million Dollar Costs

According to a Deseret News article, RTK does not have a bond in place to cover reclamation costs in case of closure or accident. This would leave Utahns responsible for millions of dollars in clean up costs.