SALT LAKE CITY — A company branded by environmental groups as a major Utah polluter has settled eight years worth of violations and lawsuits with the state of Utah.

U.S. Magnesium agreed to a $430,900 settlement with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality for dozens of violations stretching back to 2015, including five pollution violations where the company was accused of exceeding emissions limits. The settlement, approved Tuesday by the Utah Air Quality Board, came over the objections of two members who felt the amount agreed upon was too light.

"This should be a deterrent. I don't think this is even close to a deterrent," said board member Kevin Cromar. "If they knew at outset this would be the settlement amount? They'd make this decision 100 times out of 100 and do the same thing."

U.S. Magnesium, located on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Tooele County, has been accused of being a major contributor to Utah's air pollution. A recent environmental study claimed U.S. Magnesium is responsible for as much as 25% of northern Utah's pollution problems. U.S. Magnesium disputes it. The company has recently been the target of the Utah State Legislature and Governor Spencer Cox has said he wants U.S. Magnesium included in the federal Environmental Protection Agency's non-attainment zone for pollution.

Some state air quality board members appeared uneasy with the settlement amount, given the years of litigation the state has been engaged in with U.S. Magnesium. In May, the board rejected a different settlement offer. Some on Tuesday still questioned if the company should be on the hook for millions of dollars in environmental violations.

"Give me a ballpark range of what the maximum win for the state might be for this, versus what we’re compromising for?" asked Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini, a member of the board.

"The penalty could be in the millions," replied assistant Utah Attorney General Marina Thomas. "Is that a realistic outcome? Maybe, maybe not."

It was the gamble in the courts after nearly eight years of litigation that appeared to have some air quality board members supporting the settlement. They approved it on a 5-2 vote.

"The litigation risks are unknown and very high and I would just go on record with that," warned Kim Frost with the Utah Clean Air Partnership and the board's vice-chair.

U.S. Magnesium attorney Mike Zody acknowledged the company has made some mistakes in the past, but added they have implemented changes. He pointed out this is the highest financial settlement with the Division of Air Quality in the past five years.

"Four hundred thirty thousand dollars is no inconsequential amount," Zody told the board. "That doesn’t include the resources on my client’s side, staff resources just like the DAQ staff, legal fees. The $430,000 is nowhere close to the entire cost. I would say the specter of an NOV [notice of violation] and violations is a deterrent itself but this is a serious settlement."

While the settlement immediately ends the litigation between U.S. Magnesium and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, it will not block any future investigations of the company.

One environmental group left Tuesday's meeting feeling the settlement amount was too light.

"They could have faced penalties in the millions. That’s not even compared to the $2 billion our economy loses every year because of poor air quality," said Eliza Cowie, the policy director for O2 Utah. "To have a couple hundred thousand dollars with a payment plan quarterly? They’re not facing the extent of what they put into our airshed."

Fox 13 Reporter
Ben Winslow is FOX 13's reporter on Capitol Hill covering a wide variety of topics including politics, polygamy, vice and courts. He has been in the news business in Utah for more than 20 years now, working in radio, newspaper, television and digital news. Winslow has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a national Edward R. Murrow award; the Religion Newswriters Association Local TV News Report of the Year; the Utah Broadcaster's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Readers of Salt Lake City Weekly and Q Salt Lake have named him their "Best TV news reporter" for many years now. He co-hosts "Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast," covering the state's often confusing and quirky liquor laws. Winslow is also known for his very active Twitter account keeping Utahns up-to-date on important news.

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