Langley: H.B. 527 Attempted to Poison Utah and its Democracy

Photo by Tom Fisk:

By Jeffrey Langley Jr., Opinion Editor


In Salt Lake County last year, thousands of citizens banded together and petitioned against the creation of a mine in Parleys Canyon. Adhering to warnings from local health officials, the Salt Lake County Council wisely struck down the mine. Unfortunately, the mining industry was able to rear its soot-covered head again during this year’s legislative season in the form of H.B. 527.

This bill, introduced by Rep. Keven Stratton, would have allowed new mining operations to bypass local regulations. While it didn’t pass, Stratton’s bill endangered Utah’s public health and environment, and chose to overturn the democratic process in favor of destructive corporations. H.B. 527 was dangerous and we cannot allow similar legislation to ever pass.

Mining: A Cause of Contamination and Deforestation

Without proper context, many may be unaware of the dangers mining operations release upon the state. Despite providing us with materials necessary for creating infrastructure and consumer goods, mining is an inherently invasive and destructive process with drastic consequences.

Water in the west is increasingly scarce due to poor resource allocation, Utah’s rapidly growing population and climate change. Despite these local issues with water, Stratton believed in drastically and irresponsibly expanding our state’s already water-polluting mining industry. Today, over 40% of our watersheds’ headwaters are polluted in the west, filling our rivers with billions of tons of heavy metals and acidic waters yearly. This toxic waste in our rivers can have serious health consequences for humans and local wildlife.

If Stratton’s bill passed, developers would have built an open-pit mine in Parley’s Canyon, which could have produced up to ten times more waste than a traditional mine. Additionally, the location of this mine would have been up the hill from Parley’s Creek, which runs directly into the heart of Salt Lake City. While this will not be the only case where this mining expansion in Utah can lead to severe water pollution, it shows just how poorly thought out this bill was.

However, water quality in Utah is not the only aspect of our environment that will be threatened by similar legislation: air quality also stands to worsen. Besides increased emissions from heavy machinery and automobiles, mining can cause toxic dust, a well-known contemporary staple of Utah’s environmental situation. Smelting operations, which were to be expanded with H.B. 527, can release unrefined toxic metals into the air. These airborne metals devastate respiratory health and sometimes lead to “black lung” in serious cases and prolonged exposure.

The Function of H.B. 527

This bill’s main purpose and deadly flaw was the deregulation of mining expansion across Utah, Parley’s Canyon being a prime example. The proposed quarry, headed by Tree Farm LLC and Granite Construction, was deemed potentially dangerous by local lawmakers and thus shot down. It is, therefore, surprising that an elected official would draft a bill whose primary function was the expansion of vested mining use. While this may not mean much to the average citizen, these expansions would exempt new mining operations across the state from local land-use regulations. One can quickly see how this sort of freedom for corporations can promptly get out of hand and detriment the lives of our citizens.

Community Response to H.B. 527

Similar to the backlash other bills in this controversial legislative season have received, H.B. 527 has also faced widespread criticism from members of the community. Save Parley’s, the association responsible for the initial petition against the Parley’s Canyon mining operation, was formed in late 2021. Since then, they have tirelessly worked against the poor regulation of the Department of Oil, Gas, and Mining. The Chronicle was fortunate enough to get ahold of their representative, Sam Dunham, to discuss their feelings on H.B. 527.

When asked about the state’s regulation of mining in Utah, Dunham said how it was “[A]n eye opener as far as the lack of regulation in the state of Utah, concerning oil, gas and mining.” This low amount of regulation is even more surprising when learning that the state is the seventh-largest mineral producer in the nation.

With mining being such a large and destructive industry, one would expect the state to act responsibly for the safety of our citizens. Dunham reinforces this need for responsibility by the state, mentioning that the bill “will affect every single citizen in the state of Utah because of all the mining claims found throughout the state.” Despite the difficult nature of the DOGM of Utah, Dunham and his associates continue their fight and inform others of its disregard for Utah’s safety. On their website, Save Parley’s since 2021 has made various videos and blog posts wherein much important information on their fight can be found.

With his support of corporate colonialism in our state and the destruction of its environment for material gain, Rep. Stratton has proven himself to be an inadequate representative. Despite the clear public health, environmental and moral issues associated with introducing H.B. 527, Stratton chose to continue with the bill regardless. This bill would have undoubtedly brought ruin to our state. But just because it didn’t pass doesn’t mean Stratton or other legislators may not try again with similar bills.

We must always band together to fight against such clear greed and irresponsibility. If bills like H.B. 527 ever come to light again, we must do everything we can to strike them down.


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