SALT LAKE CITY — Clean air advocates and environmental groups are putting Kennecott on notice they intend to sue the mining giant for violating federally approved limits on the amount of ore and waste rock the company moves.
A statement released Monday by WildEarth Guardians and groups such as Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment said the company is in violation of a threshold set by an EPA-approved Utah state plan from 1994 that addresses PM10 emissions.
The plan capped production of ore and rock waste at a little more than 150 million tons, but Kennecott's own records submitted to mining regulators show it has violated that limit each year since 2006, according to the groups. Those asserted violations go from nearly 160 million tons in 2007 to a high of nearly 193 million tons in 2009, according to information compiled from state records.
Kennecott has 60 days to correct the problem or the lawsuit will be filed in federal court seeking action, said Dr. Brian Moench, with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
"When they do not abide by the limitations under (the plan) it means everyone's air pollution is unnecessarily increased. We all suffer from that," Moench said.
Kennecott spokeswoman Jana Kettering said the threatened suit is without merit and the mining company is operating within approvals granted by the EPA and the state.
"Kennecott is, and will remain, in compliance with the Clean Air Act," she said.
Bryce Bird, director of the state Division of Air Quality, said Kennecott has been handling the increased amount of material based on permit modifications that were appropriately approved by state regulators. While the amount of waste rock and ore moved has gone up, the mine's emissions have not because of other pollution control measures the company has put into place, Bird said.
"Emissions stayed the same but the limit was able to be increased because it was shown to be protective of air quality due to increased controls applied to all their other activities," Bird said.
The limit was increased again in June to 260 million tons for the company's Cornerstone expansion — again with modifications that Bird said set additional pollution controls on other aspects of the mining operations more restrictive than Kennecott's previous permits.
Moench said because the federal government has yet to sign off on a new state pollution plan with a higher threshold, Kennecott is illegally exceeding the 1994 limits.
Bird said such permit modifications absent federal approval of a new pollution plan — a process that takes years — are not unusual nor illegal, especially since the level of emissions is actually going down.
Moench doesn't buy it.
"Whatever the DAQ wants to say about what is going on, it is not enough," he said, adding that granting such a modification absent federal approval is akin to a teenager taking the family car, reasoning it's OK because the parents didn't expressly forbid it.
"That is not how things work," he said.