Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Public Air Quality Meeting Today

Today, Rio Tinto/Kennecott Copper and the Utah Air Quality Board will be holding a public air quality meeting regarding their request to increase mine output from 196 tons a year to 270 tons a year, and extend the life of the mine by 20 years(!). The new mining operation will eat deeper into the Oquirrhs in search of molybdenum, gold, silver and copper.

Considering the state of Utah's air quality, this is probably not a good idea for people who prefer to breathe air that they can't see.

The meeting is at the state Office Building in the main auditorium, 450 N. State Street, from 1:30 to 3:30. If you haven't already developed COPD or some sort of hellish downwinder plague, feel free to come on down and let Kennecott and the UAQB know what you think.

UPDATE: the board approved the expansion 5-4. This may not be the end, however: there is concern among board members and others that the EPA might put the kibosh on the expansion. Also, Rio Tinto/Kennecott have to pass muster for over 20 additional regulatory okays before they can proceed. The Salt Lake Tribune has an excellent write-up here.

I was talking to my neighbor Jan about the whole thing afterwards (Jan is a great lady and very involved in local quality of life issues), and said the following: community council meetings are great, and (although I'm not trying to make them sound perfect) give citizens a chance to really engage with their government. City council* meetings tend to be the same way: there's a lot of citizen input and back-and-forth.

Go to a hearing of some board or other regulatory authority when a massive monied interest like Rio Tinto or a developer or, hell, Real Salt Lake is trying to get its way and it's a whole other ball game. In addition to the extremely limited public comment component of the air quality meeting, there were many attempts to obfuscate, cloud, misdirect, and generally tap-dance around the real issues presented by Kennecott's request. I saw a lot of "models" based partially on data from the 90s and partially on additional data from 200t that "proved" that Kennecott's expansion will keep Utah under EPA limits. Pardon my French, but that's a bunch of merde. Just off the top of my head, 2005 data would not include increases in particulate pollution since then, up to and including the circumstances that led to the Salt Lake Valley winning "America's Worst Air" in 2010, a full five years of development and environmental degradation past the data that Bryce, the presenter on behalf of the rule change, relied on in his modeling.

The upside of all this is that we're fighting a war, not a battle, here. Rio Tinto / Kennecott may have received initial approval for this expansion, but there are a lot more hurdles to clear, and a lot of upset people who will be metaphorically trying to trip them up as they attempt to clear those hurdles. It's a damn sight easier to do what RT/K is trying to do than to undo the damage afterwards.

*: Full disclosure - I know a few city councilmen personally, and count at least one (Dr. Luke Garrott) as a friend and mentor.

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