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EPA's new regulation is toxic

The Environmental Protection Agency does little for its own credibility when it passes rules that are blatantly unfair. Battling pollution is a tough enough task without the added burden of ridiculous policies.

Under a new guideline, every rock a mining company moves would become a toxic substance, even if it contains only the same natural minerals it had when it was lodged inside a mountain or in the ground. Previously, only processed ore was reported under the toxic inventory.No surprisingly, this new proposed rule has Western governors hopping mad. It could hurt local economies and drive tourists from the West.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, speaking at the annual Western Governors Association meetings this week in Grand Teton National Park, suggested somebody in Washington wants to paint a picture of Utah as a major polluter. Regardless whether that is true, the new requirements definitely cast the state in that role. The EPA needs to do an about face.

The new requirement, if upheld, would have a considerable impact. Consider Kennecott's operations. According to company officials, Kennecott moves about 450,000 tons of rock every day, of which 290,000 tons is waste material that is never processed because the mineral content is too low.

Every ton of waste rock contains three or four pounds of copper, which by EPA definition is a toxic substance. Add in two or three ounces of lead, zinc and arsenic, also toxic substances, and then calculate how much that would be for 290,000 tons of waste rock produced every day, 365 days a year.

Western governors are calling on the EPA to put waste rock toxicity in the proper context. The EPA should do that and more to be fair not only to Western states but to the American people.

Western governors fear the EPA, when it releases a report called the Toxic Release Inventory next year, will add all the newly defined "pollution" to the old, creating artificially high numbers. That, in turn, could scare tourists and businesses.

The Environmental Protection Agency needs to spend its energy finding ways to report accurately on the environment, not inventing scare tactics that paint entire regions in a false light.