From: Reuters
Published January 7, 2008 11:40 AM

Justices won't hear Teck Cominco pollution case

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by the Canadian mining company Teck Cominco Ltd of a ruling that an American environmental law applied to a foreign company when some of its pollution reaches U.S. territory.

Vancouver-headquartered Teck appealed in an effort to block a lawsuit by two members of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington state who contended that pollution from the company's lead and zinc smelter in Trail, British Columbia, had flowed into the Columbia River and into the United States.

The state of Washington joined the lawsuit, which was brought under a U.S. law called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

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The company appealed to the nation's highest court after a U.S. appeals court ruled the lawsuit can proceed.

The appeals court "has decided that American environmental laws can be applied to the activities of a foreign company in a foreign country in compliance with that country's laws," Teck said in its appeal that argued that the ruling was wrong.

The Canadian government, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group and the National Mining Association were among those that supported the company's appeal.

But the Bush administration urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal. Administration lawyers said the appeals court decision lacked sufficient importance to warrant Supreme Court review at this time, and they said the decision does not threaten to disrupt U.S. ties with Canada.

Sand-like slag was discharged from the smelter into the river for decades and became sediment in Lake Roosevelt in Washington state when the reservoir was created with the building of the Grand Coulee Dam in 1941.

The smelter, which opened in 1892, is still in operation. But the company stopped slag discharges into the river in 1994. The smelter is located about 10 miles north of the U.S. border.

The company in 2006 reached a settlement with the Bush administration and agreed to fund an environmental and health study of the pollution, to be carried out under the supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the company's appeal in a brief order issued without any comment or recorded dissent.

(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Brian Moss)

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