Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Kennecott Utah Copper mine.
We are deeply committed to the cause of cleaner air because it is as intimately linked to improved health and longer life.

During the last four years, the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) have joined other nonprofit organizations in a campaign to provide education on the latest medical research associating many chronic diseases and causes of mortality to environmental factors, especially air pollution. Occasionally we have felt compelled to step out of the role of educators and become active participants in the process of steering state policy toward greater public health protection.

Adopting a more activist profile has brought some notable successes in the battle to protect public health — among them the defeat of the proposed petroleum coke burning power plant at the Holly Oil Refinery site and multiple proposed coal power plants in the West, freeway alerts on days of poor air quality and we joined many other groups to rally public opposition to the now infamous HB477 that would have gutted Utah's GRAMMA laws and severely handicapped environmental groups' ability to monitor state agency activities.

Recognizing that a Rio Tinto/Kennecott (RTK) expansion of the Bingham Canyon Mine will have a greater negative impact on air pollution on the Wasatch Front than any other industrial activity for decades to come, we made this issue our top priority for the last two years. We have spent many hours meeting with RTK executives trying to persuade them to invest in a broad range of cleaner operations that will do less harm to public health. We have held press conferences and conducted seminars to explain the role that RTK plays in Wasatch Front air pollution, its health consequences and the additional impact that a RTK expansion will have on all of us. We have had RTK's permit applications scrutinized by consultants and found numerous errors, inconsistencies and unsubstantiated claims.

Ultimately the Utah Air Quality Board approved an RTK expansion by only one vote, even though we were never allowed to speak at the hearing where the decision was made. Having exhausted all other, less activist options UPHE has only one option left — to take RTK to court for violating the Clean Air Act.

Rio Tinto is the second largest mining corporation in the world with after tax profits last year of over $15 Billion. UPHE has no financial backers, no assets and consists only of unpaid, volunteer physicians and other professional consultants. We have no budget to counter the expensive PR campaign run by RTK on TV, radio and print media. This is David vs. Goliath in the extreme. But we are deeply committed to the cause of cleaner air because it is as intimately linked to improved health and longer life. When a company as profitable as RTK has such an enormous impact on public health, it is common sense and is morally compelling that they spend some of that profit on reducing their pollution to our air, water and soil. We think our patients and the residents of the Wasatch Front agree with us.

Beyond those considerations, and most importantly in a court of law, RTK is also operating in violation of the Clean Air Act. For the protection of our own families, our patients and our community at large, now and in the decades to come, UPHE has decided to ask the federal courts to enforce the provisions of the Clean Air Act as they apply to RTK because our own state agencies have failed to do so. We have the support of virtually every environmental group in the state, but we have chosen to take the lead because this is first and foremost an issue of public health protection.

New medical research published since we began this effort brings even more legitimacy to our position and urgency to our message. Every family in Utah deserves to breathe clean air. If we succeed, every family in Utah, including RTK employees, will enjoy better health, longer life and less out-of-pocket health expenses. Furthermore, every Wasatch Front resident will enjoy an improved quality of life and every non-RTK business will have a better chance at attracting new business and more employees and compete in an enhanced economic environment.

Dr. Ellie Brownstein is a member of the Board of Directors of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. Drs. Cris Cowley, Todd Seymour, Gary Kunkel, Brian Moench and Richard Kanner also signed this piece.