“Ethical” Responsible Jewellery Counsel Member, Rio Tinto, May Be Sued Over Kennecott Mine’s Clean Air Violations
Editor’s note: Just as we learn about Rio Tinto certification by the Responsible Jewellery Counsel, Wild Earth Guardians http://www.wildearthguardians.org , an environmental NGO and others threaten suit, alleging air pollution issues at the companies’ Kennecott mine. See below:
Salt Lake City (UT)–A coalition of doctors, moms, health, and environmental groups today put Kennecott Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, on notice of an impending lawsuit over the company’s failure to protect clean air.
At issue are ongoing clean air violations at Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Copper Mine, the world’s largest open pit copper mine located in western Salt Lake County in the Oquirrh Mountains. For at least the last five years, the company has violated its federal limits on ore and waste rock production. These production limits were put in place in 1994 to curb particulate matter emissions and meet health standards.
“Every Wasatch Front resident knows that our air pollution is often severe, and occasionally the worst in the nation. Rio Tinto, as a major contributor to this problem, is literally mining away our clean air, and they are doing it illegally,” said Dr. Brian Moench with the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
“The health and prosperity of our communities depends on clean air,” said Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air. “All we are asking is that Kennecott pay the true cost of doing their business and not cheat by hoisting those costs unto our children.”
Conservative estimates show that 1,000 – 2,000 Utahns die prematurely every year because of air pollution. These levels of pollution also shorten the life span of everyone one of us about two years, said Dr. Cris Cowley, Vice President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
“In revealing the significant health consequences of air pollution, new medical science has become so compelling in the last few years that it is clear our policies on polluting industries have to change,” said Cowley. “But our state agencies who are supposed to protect us have demonstrated they are unwilling to do so. In that absence, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment strongly feels it is our obligation to step forward and ask the courts to protect the health of our patients and Utah families.”
“We now know that air pollution causes the same broad spectrum of diseases as cigarette smoke, and yet we are forcing our children to breathe this awful air,” said Dr. Ellie Brownstein. “As a pediatrician I can no longer remain silent and allow this to happen to our children and my patients. The air pollution our children breathe while they are young damages their health for the rest of their lives.”
In 1994, Kennecott agreed to limit production at its Bingham Canyon Mine to 150,500,000 tons of ore and waste rock every year to minimize air pollution. This limit was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and adopted into federal regulations. However, every year since 2006 Rio Tinto has violated this production limit, reaching levels as high as 192,684,252 in 2009 — more than 40 million tons above the limit allowed.
Although Rio Tinto has claimed that production increases were authorized by the State of Utah, the increases were never approved by the Environmental Protection Agency nor were the air quality impacts analyzed to ensure compliance with federal health standards which are currently being violated by several Wasatch Front counties.
“Not only was the 1999 increase illegal, so too is the recent approval by the Utah Division of Air Quality of Rio Tinto’s application to increase their production to 260 million tons, a 75% increase over the legal limit,” said Jeremy Nichols, the Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “The Environmental Protection Agency has expressed numerous concerns over the state’s plan and has yet to approve the increase. Put simply, Kennecott is mining more than it is allowed and that has to stop.”
Under the provisions of the Clean Air Act, citizens and citizen groups can sue to enforce violations in federal court, but first have to give at least 60-days notice to polluters. Today, WildEarth Guardians, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Moms for Clean Air, and the Sierra Club joined forced to put Kennecott on notice that if the violations at the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine are not resolved within 60 days, that the groups intend to file suit to stop them.