Skip to Content

Coal miner hit with $60M fine for selenium damage

Click here for updates on this story

    MISSOULA, Montana (Missoulian) — Canadian coal company Teck Resources has paid a $60 million fine after pleading guilty to pollution discharges that have killed nearly all the fish in nearby waters.

Canadian investigators found the mining company discharged hazardous amounts of selenium and calcite into the Fording River from two coal mines in the Elk Valley, just north of Eureka, Montana. Some of that selenium has been connected to fish damage in Montana Koocanusa Reservoir and the Kootenai River, resulting in strict new water quality standards imposed by the state Board of Environmental Review last year.

The decision came down Friday in a Canadian federal court in Fernie, British Columbia. By reaching a financial settlement, the company avoided a full trial. The fine is 10 times as large as any previous punishment imposed under Canada’s Fisheries Act.

In a press release on Friday, Teck President Don Lindsay apologized and took responsibility for the damage. He also said the company had invested about $1 billion in water treatment facilities and pledged to spend up to $655 million more over the next four years to protect the watershed.

“Again, to the Ktunaxa First Nation, whose territory we operate on, and to our communities in the Elk Valley, we deeply regret these impacts and we apologize,” Lindsay wrote. “You have my commitment that we will not waver in our focus on addressing this challenge and working to ensure that the environment is protected for today and for future generations.”

Selenium is a trace element that causes reproductive damage in fish and other creatures in excessive amounts. Calcite, essentially limestone powder, seals over the streambeds of waterways where it’s released, blocking the growth of plants and insects the fish need to feed on.

“Between 2017 and 2019, we saw the disappearance of 93% of the adult westslope cutthroat trout,” said Lars Sanders-Green of Wildsight, a Canadian conservation group monitoring the Teck activity in British Columbia and Alberta. “There’s about 100 fish left in the Upper Fording River tributaries, well below what’s needed to be self-sustaining.”

In February, Montana Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, and Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby, led an effort to overturn those selenium standards, arguing there was no evidence of fish damage but the restrictions could hurt the economy of Lincoln County. State Department of Environmental Quality Director Chris Dorrington disputed those claims, noting researchers had already found reproductive damage in Montana fish.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the same standards for selenium levels as Montana on Feb. 26, the same day the Senate Natural Resources Committee killed Cuffe’s SB 324 on a 7-5 vote.

Teck Resources mines coal via mountaintop removal, and sells it to foundries for steel and metal production. Sanders-Green said while Canada’s energy-producing coal mines have hit hard economic times similar to the wave of coal bankruptcies in the United States, the market for metallurgic coal remains strong.

“They’re selling most of it to China,” Sanders-Green said. “China isn’t buying Australian coal now because they’re in a trade dispute, so Teck’s selling at a premium to China. There are proposals for almost a dozen new mines up here, and they’re almost all metallurgical coal. It’s really a gold rush right now.”

Please note: This content carries a strict local market embargo. If you share the same market as the contributor of this article, you may not use it on any platform.

Article Topic Follows: National-World

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


ABC 17 News is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content