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Access Type

Open Access

Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded

January 2008

Month Degree Awarded



Political Ecology, Environmental Justice, Urbanization, Salt Lake City, Kennecott


Kennecott copper mine is one of the largest producers of pollution in the United States: it has contaminated over 72 square miles in the Salt Lake Valley. In 1998 alone, Kennecott, which is located only 25 miles southwest of downtown Salt Lake City, released 439 million pounds of toxic material into the Salt Lake Valley. Kennecott was proposed as a Superfund site by the EPA in 1994. Today it is the largest manmade excavation in the world. When mining operations began in 1863 at what is now Kennecott, Salt Lake City was a small city of just over 8,000 (Census, 1860). In recent years, the city has expanded toward Kennecott, so that once distant hazards are now literally in Salt Lake City’s residents’ backyards. According to the basic patterns commonly identified in the academic literatures on environmental justice and urban growth, as the Salt Lake City metropolitan area grows towards Kennecott the assumptions would be (1) Kennecott’s mining activities would be severely hindered by the influence of the EPA or would be forced to close due to the proximity of residents. (2) Those living/moving nearest to the area would most likely be low income people with no other options. (3) Arousal of community opposition to Kennecott as residents continue to move closer, which in this paper is referred to as “reverse” NIMBYism. However, none of the assumptions are the case. Why is it that Kennecott continues to function at full capacity without direct influence by the EPA and those residents encroaching upon it are not of low income and are not in opposition? This study of social, urban and historical geography will address these questions by exploring the spatial, economic and political history of Kennecott, Salt Lake City and the EPA, with a focus on the recent and ongoing development of 20,000 new homes in the area called Daybreak.

The analysis will draw on analytical and theoretical approaches common to geographical analyses of urban growth and sprawl, environmental perception and environmental justice in relation to the nexus of spatial, economic and political circumstances which have led to the development of a new housing area on previously polluted land.

First Advisor

Piper Gaubatz