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Know the West

Doubts about Kennecott in Utah

  Dear HCN,

Thanks for highlighting the long-term, extremely costly damage that hardrock mining has caused to America's West in "Can Mining Come Clean?" (HCN, 5/30/94).

David Mullon, the Mineral Policy Center's Southwest Circuit Rider at that time, worked together with the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District to oppose Utah's sweetheart settlement with Kennecott of natural resource damage claims. Mullon and the Water Conservancy District objected to the state's willingness to settle for "replacement costs."

We felt that Kennecott should restore the resources it had damaged, not simply pay a much lower "replacement" value. The courts had already held that our doctrine was the correct interpretation of the law.

The state of Utah could be forgiven for having sided with Kennecott on the initial interpretation of what the law required. However, when Judge Greene upheld the Water Conservancy District's interpretation, Utah should not have joined with Kennecott to appeal the decision. At that point, the state had a moral obligation to join with the Water Conservancy District, not oppose it.

The state's coziness with Kennecott on that issue makes us skeptical of its vigilance if Bingham Canyon is not put on the Superfund list.

But, as the French historian told us, the one thing that people learn from history is that people don't learn much from history. Persevere.

Philip M. Hocker

Washington, D.C.

The writer is president of the Mineral Policy Center.