Kennecott gets air quality permit for Cornerstone expansion project


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SALT LAKE CITY — Kennecott Utah Copper has cleared one regulatory hurdle in support of its ambitious Cornerstone expansion project, receiving a permit Monday that will allow it to increase the amount of material it moves from 197 million tons a year to 260 million tons.

The permit from the Division of Air Quality is just one of more than two dozen the mining company is required to obtain for its Cornerstone proposal, which is designed to extend the life of the mine to 2039.

Bryce Bird, the air quality division's director, said the new permit incorporated additional protective measures beyond what had existed before that are designed to strengthen regulatory oversight of the mine.


Our airshed is in such bad shape we need to go a step beyond just the regulations of what is permitted. This mine is not in the west desert of Utah; it is in the face of 2 million people who live in the state's most populous county.

–Terry Marasco


Although he has not seen the specific provisions of the new permit, Utah Clean Air Alliance's Terry Marasco said the official permit issuance by the division is surprising and a disappointment.

His group and other clean air advocates have been ardent critics of Kennecott's Cornerstone project, saying such an expansion should not be allowed to go forward given the Wasatch Front's dismal record of air quality problems.

"Our airshed is in such bad shape we need to go a step beyond just the regulations of what is permitted," Marasco said. "This mine is not in the west desert of Utah; it is in the face of 2 million people who live in the state's most populous county."

But Bird said the new permit comes with additional requirements imposed on the mining company, including the installation of an air quality monitor at the southern boundary of Kennecott and a daily limit on vehicle miles traveled.

The company will also have to lay down crushed rock on major haul routes instead of simply applying water or chemicals to control dust. As the company's fleet is replaced, the mining operator will have to switch to the highest grade clean-burning trucks available and purchase trucks with larger load-carrying capacity, he said.

Bird said Kennecott will also switch from coal-fired boilers to those that use natural gas.

“After extensive evaluation, we have determined that the permit conditions are consistent with state and federal standards established for air quality permits” Bird said. "With the conditions in the approval order, the expanded operations do not cause air quality to exceed the federal standards and are protective of health and the environment.”

Clean air advocates have been vehemently opposed to any expansion unless the Division of Air Quality can assure that expansion will not increase emissions.

"This expansion is OK with us if the net increase in emissions is zero," Marasco said.

Kennecott is also going through a public meetings process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding its expansion of its waste-rock tailings impoundment that will come as a result of increasing the depth and width of the mine. The permit before the Corps of Engineers says the project would fill 565 acres of wetlands and 156 acres of nonwetlands water.

Among possible alternatives the federal agency will weigh include rejecting issuance of the permit, accepting the proposal as submitted or modifying components of the proposed expansion.

Meetings are set from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at West Jordan's Hampton Inn & Suites and Thursday at Stansbury Park High School.

On Monday, the clean air activist community, including Utah Moms for Clean Air and the Utah's Physicians for a Healthy Environment, issued a statement denouncing Utah Division of Air Quality's decision.

Email:aodonoghue@ksl.com

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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