March 1, 2012

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Article

A Breath of Fresh Air

Air Quality is Important for a Healthy Economy

Heather Stewart

March 1, 2012

Corporate Responsibility
Because of the potential economic impacts, the Salt Lake Chamber has convened a task force to address Utah’s poor air quality. Several local businesses have gotten involved, including Kennecott Utah Copper—one of the Salt Lake Valley’s major polluters.

Kennecott’s mining operations include a power plant, big haul trucks and smelting operations. The haul trucks move more than 500,000 tons of material every day, kicking up dust and fine particulate matter. Kennecott is responsible for 16 percent of the PM10 pollution in the air, according to 2008 data from the Utah Division of Air Quality.

The mine has already taken several steps to reduce its emissions. An idle reduction program has saved more than 1.8 million gallons of fuel and prevented more than 18,000 tons of greenhouse gases from being released, says Kyle Bennett, spokesperson for Kennecott Utah Copper.

The company has also begun investing in compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles and its own fueling station. Furthermore, Kennecott constructed a combined heat and power system at its Magna refinery; the system is more than 80 percent energy efficient when compared with separate heat and power systems, says Bennett.

“We’re looking at a lot of ways to be responsible, to be really focused on sustainable development,” he says.

Kennecott is in the midst of obtaining the necessary permits for its Cornerstone project—a plan to extend the life of the mine to at least 2028. The plan would significantly expand the mine and increase the amount of material moved every day.

Although the mine would be expanded, Bennett says the mine’s overall emissions would be somewhat reduced. One reason for that is a planned upgrade that would convert the mine’s onsite power plant to a combined-cycle natural gas plan. “That would allow us to double the amount of power by reducing emissions at the plant by half,” he says.

Other planned improvements include enhanced dust control and particulate monitoring systems, and larger haul trucks that will allow more material to be moved per trip.

Better for Business
Many local companies are trying to reduce their impact on air quality. Hale Center Theater converted its vehicle fleet to CNG vehicles and provides free fuel to employees who purchase personal CNG vehicles. Waste Management is in the process of converting its fleet of garbage trucks to CNG trucks. The company expects to reap $16,000 per truck per year in fuel savings.

Companies can also get their employees involved through the Clear the Air Challenge, an annual competition that encourages individuals to reduce the number of miles they drive. Last year, Overstock.com was the top company with its employees saving 166,000 miles for an estimated reduction of 275,000 pounds of emissions.

Overstock.com encourages wise travel all year long. “All our employees are here in Utah. We want to be a good corporate citizen and make it a great place to live,” says Jonathan Johnson, president of Overstock.com.

The company encourages its 1,400 employees to carpool, take public transportation, walk or bike to work. Those who carpool or walk/bike receive a monthly stipend. Those who take public transportations are given free passes. Nearly 300 Overstock.com employees take advantage of either the stipend or the free transit passes.

The company also buys carbon credits to offset the carbon foot-
print created by its warehouse and shipping operations.

Johnson chairs the Salt Lake Chamber clean air task force, which is working to get the wider business community engaged in the issue of clean air. Getting involved “is paramount,” says Johnson. “It needs to be every company.”

Moving Forward
Air quality is not a new issue for Utah—and it’s not a new issue for the chamber. In the 1920s, coal-fired power plants and coal-burning stoves blackened the air. Eventually, coal was banned in favor of cleaner fuels. “At one point, in 1942, the chamber paid for an airplane to fly around the valley and look for people who were illegally burning coal,” says Carpenter.

The state’s air quality has improved over the years, especially since the early 1970s, when the federal Clean Air Act went into effect.

“We’ve seen constant improvement over time; even though industry has grown and the population has grown, we have better air quality than we did 20 years ago,” says Bird.

Although the improvement is good news, it does present a difficulty going forward. As Bird explains, all the easy fixes have been done. To meet EPA guidelines is going to require real effort and sacrifice—both from businesses and individuals.

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