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Coal Mining Company Pays Fine For Kootenai Headwaters Pollution

Lake Koocanusa
Darren Kirby (CC-BY-SA-3)
Lake Koocanusa

British Columbia coal mining company Teck Resources has agreed to pay a $60 million fine for polluting rivers upstream of Lake Koocanusa.

Teck Resources pled guilty on Friday to two federal charges under Canada’s fisheries act for insufficient efforts in 2012 to limit the amount of selenium and calcite leaching from waste rock at two coal mining operations into the Fording River.

The Fording River eventually flows into the transboundary Lake Koocanusa and into the Kootenai River. Selenium is a mineral known to cause reproductive harm in fish at high levels - levels which have been documented in Lake Koocanusa.

Lars Sander-Green with the environmental group Wildsight Canada said the settlement is a mixed bag.

"$60 million is the largest fine ever issued under the Fisheries Act for water pollution in Canada," he said. "But at the end of the day, when we’re talking about 11 years of water pollution, it’s really less than 1% of Teck’s profits from coal mining in that time."

Sander-Green said the settlement does nothing to curb the current levels of selenium pollution flowing downstream from Teck’s mines into Montana.

In a press release, Teck Resources apologized for its actions in 2012 and said it will do more in the years ahead to protect the watershed. During oral arguments, federal Canadian prosecutors declined to pursue additional charges for selenium and calcite pollution between 2013 and 2019, citing Teck Resources’ efforts to build water treatment facilities.

A site-specific selenium standard for Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River was passed last year by state environmental regulators. It was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month. B.C. officials worked with the state for several years to set one selenium standard for Lake Koocanusa but the provincial government has not set a standard for its side of the lake.
Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.