For at least the last five years, Kennecott Utah Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, violated the federal limits on ore and waste rock production at its Bingham Canyon Mine, the largest open pit copper mine in the world. Kennecott agreed in 1994 to limit production to 150,500,000 tons of ore and waste rock a year at the Bingham Canyon Mine. The EPA approved the limit, and adopted it into federal regulations. Every year since 2006, Rio Tinto violated the production limit, reaching levels up to 192,684,252 in 2009 — more than 40 million tons over the limit, according to data submitted to the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. The mine is located in western Salt Lake County in the Oquirrh Mountains of Utah.
A coalition of environmental, health and advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in December against Kennecott Copper over Clean Air Act (CAA) violations at the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine. The coalition (WildEarth Guardians, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and Utah Moms for Clean Air) filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Utah. The lawsuit seeks a ruling that Kennecott violated the CAA, an order that the company comply with the production limit, and the company pays the maximum penalty of $37,500 per violation per day.
Salt Lake County and other counties in the area are currently in violation of federal health limits on particulate matter. The region has some of the worst particulate pollution in the U.S. The American Lung Association ranks the area an “F” for ozone and particulate matter pollution. Salt Lake County is officially classified by the EPA as in “non-attainment” with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.
Kennecott’s response to the lawsuit is denial. “We operate within strict provisions established by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Utah Division of Air Quality,” said Kyle Bennett, Kennecott Utah Copper spokesman. “And those limits have been established to protect human health.”
The Utah Division of Air Quality claims that it protects “public health and the environment from the harmful effects of air pollution.” However, the lawsuit makes that claim ring hollow.
Tell the Utah Division of Air Quality what you think. Sign the petition: Clean Up the Bingham County Mine.
Photo credit: Flickr user, Loco Steve