Teck Coal named in US legal action over selenium contamination from BC mines

Elkview is one of Teck’s main steelmaking coal operations. (Image courtesy of Teck Resources.)

A legal action filed Thursday in Montana names Teck Coal Ltd. as one of three defendants in a request for judicial review by environmental groups in Montana and Idaho over levels of a contaminant from its British Columbia mines in US waters.

Montana Environmental Information Center, Clark Fork Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, and Idaho Rivers United petitioned the court, seeking declaratory relief from the Board of Environmental Review’s administrative ruling, saying that Montana state authorities illegally struck down a regulation that set limits for selenium in Lake Koocanusa, a lake crossing the border from British Columbia into Montana.

The other two defendants are the Montana Board of Environmental Review and the Board of County Commissioners of Lincoln County, reportedly petitioned by Teck over the regulation on limits.

The selenium, toxic to fish, reportedly originates in Teck’s coal mines in BC’s Elk Valley. The legal action states the boards exceeded their authority when they decreased selenium limits.

“For decades, coal mines in Canada’s Elk River Valley have leached harmful selenium into Lake Koocanusa—a 90-mile reservoir that stretches across the Montana-Canada border. Since 1986, selenium levels have more than quadrupled in the Elk River, contributing to more than 95 percent of the selenium pollution in Lake Koocanusa. The pollution in the lake is worsening as coal mining continues to expand,” court documents read.

Millions in environmental fines

Canada’s largest diversified miner has been slapped with millions in fines this year for at its operations in the Province.

In January Teck was fined C$2.2million ($1.6m) for an acid spill into Columbia River at its Trail smelter operations. A Rossland provincial court judge made the order after the company pleaded guilty to two charges laid under the federal Fisheries Act and one charge laid under the provincial Environmental Management Act. The charges resulted from an effluent release in February 2019.

In February, the government of British Columbia fined Teck Coal Limited C$15.4 million ($11.3m) for exceeding pollution thresholds and failing to build an active water treatment facility on time at its Fording River Operations in southeastern BC.