Teck Cominco to Appeal U.S. Pollution Ruling
VANCOUVER, British Columbia − Canadian miner Teck Cominco Ltd. will appeal a U.S. judge's refusal to dismiss a case over cross-border pollution of a lake on the Columbia River, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The company said it still prefers a negotiated settlement in the fight over slag residue in Lake Roosevelt that has drawn both federal governments into debate on whether U.S. environmental law extends to a facility in Canada.
A U.S. federal judge refused Monday to dismiss a lawsuit by an Indian tribe and the Washington state government that would force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to act against Vancouver-headquartered Teck Cominco.
Judge Alan McDonald said the lawsuit was not an attempt to override Canadian laws, which he said are intended to protect the river in the 10 miles between the smelter in Trail, British Columbia and the U.S. border.
"Those laws do nothing to remedy the damage that has already occurred in U.S. territory as a result of the defendant's disposal of hazardous substances into the Columbia River," McDonald wrote in the 27-page ruling.
McDonald said while the U.S. Superfund Law was intended to help clean up pollution within the United States, there was nothing that stopped it from extending over the border if that was where the pollution originated.
Teck Cominco's attorneys were still studying the ruling, but has already decided to appeal, spokesman David Parker said, noting the judge recognized that the dispute involved unusual legal issues.
A spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The Trail smelter, which produced 283,100 tons of zinc and 87,800 tons of lead in 2003, began operations in the early 1900s and for decades its waste slag ended up in the Columbia River.
Lake Roosevelt, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, Washington, was created by the building of the Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930s.
The EPA wants Teck Cominco to pay for a study of the health impact of pollution in the lake under the jurisdiction of the Superfund Law, which could make the company liable for all clean-up costs.
Teck says it is willing to fund a study of the pollution threat, but not under Superfund jurisdiction, which it believes would violate its rights as a Canadian company.
Teck does not believe the slag poses a health risk, and because the region of Canada and the United States the Columbia flows through was once a hotbed of mining and smelting activity it may not be the only source of pollution.