US senators, coalition escalate complaints on Canadian province mining pollution

Teck’s Greenhills steelmaking coal operation, in Elk Valley, British Columbia, Canada. (Image courtesy of Teck Resources)

US lawmakers have sent a letter to the premier of Canada’s British Columbia complaining about the “lack of oversight” of mining projects in the western province, many of which they say are endangering cross-border rivers.

“As you know, Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana have tremendous natural resources that need to be protected against impacts from BC hard rock and coal-mining activities near the headwaters of shared rivers,” says a June 13 letter signed by eight US senators and addressed to BC Premier John Horgan.

They also highlight the need for binding international protections that would bring BC’s mining laws in line with those of the US, noting that the province’s own auditor general has reproved the province over lax rules and lack of enforcement.

They were referring to a May 2016’s report by the body, which found gaps in ministries’ resources, planning and tools to adequately monitor and inspect mines or enforce regulations on companies.

They are not the only ones to call demand better measures from BC. A coalition of more than 110 conservation, recreation and wildlife groups, local politicians, businesses and indigenous communities from both sides of the border has also launched a campaign calling on BC to turn down applications they consider potentially harmful, particularly Imperial Metals’ request for a five-year exploration permit.

The group worries drilling activities planned by the company, responsible for the 2014 Mount Polley disaster, would affect the wildlife-rich area between Manning and Skagit Valley Provincial Parks, known as the Skagit Doughnut Hole.

The concerns voiced by the senators from Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska stem mostly from Teck Resources’ coal mines in BC’s Elk Valley. Extracting the fossil fuel releases selenium, an element that in high amount can cause from gastrointestinal and nerve damage to death. In aquatic life, it causes reproductive failure, Canadian Press reported.

A study last year found all five waterways flowing into the transboundary Koocanusa reservoir have selenium levels at the maximum or up to four time above BC’s drinking water guidelines. Regardless of the targeted project, what the demands have in common is the sense of urgency they have about the BC government addressing mining pollution with binding laws.

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