A U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a multi-million dollar judgment against Teck last week.
The court ruled on the side of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation by affirming a previous U.S. judgment ordering Teck to pay the group’s $8.25-million legal bill.
Of those costs, $4.9 million stemmed from litigation and $3.4 million from expenses related to investigative studies of the Columbia River. Since 2004, the Tribes and the State of Washington have jointly been in U.S. court arguing Teck’s liability in the clean-up of historic pollution in the river.
“We are disappointed by the decision and are reviewing it with counsel,” Chris Stannell, from Teck Resources, told the Trail Times.
Further, he said the ruling has no bearing on remediation work already underway.
“The decision has no impact on our ongoing work to address potential risks in the Upper Columbia River associated with historical operations at our Trail facility,” Stannell continued.
Teck has invested over USD $85 million to date towards a remedial investigation study under U.S. EPA oversight to identify any such potential risks.
“Results to date are encouraging, and the Upper Columbia River remains an important recreational destination, with excellent water quality and restrictions on fish consumption that compare favourably to other water bodies in Washington State,” he said.
“We are fully committed to completing these studies to determine if there are unacceptable risks and, if necessary, taking action to address them.”
Teck has 90 days to petition the US Supreme Court for a “Writ of Certiorari,” asking the highest court to hear its appeal of the Ninth Circuit ruling.
In August 2016 U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko found in favour of the aboriginal group for costs incurred from its lawsuit with Teck over historical pollution in the Columbia River. Teck appealed Suko’s ruling to the federal Ninth Circuit Court, which has appellate jurisdiction over district courts. The company was in court earlier this year appealing the $8.25-million ruling. This latest decision was handed down Sept. 14.
The Trail smelter has been operating on the banks of the Columbia River since 1896, 10 miles north of the Canada-United States border.
Permitted discharge of granulated slag into the Columbia River ceased in 1995 and today’s permitted discharges are lower than natural metal loads carried by the river, Teck has stated.
Since the late 1970s, approximately $1.5 billion has been spent to improve the operation’s environmental performance, and Teck maintains, “water quality in the Columbia River at the international border meets or exceeds stringent regulatory levels in either B.C. or the U.S.”
On June 2, 2006, Teck signed a Settlement Agreement with the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Under the agreement, Teck is voluntarily funding and conducting a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study to evaluate the nature and the extent of contamination, and determine if unacceptable risk to human health or the environment exists as a result of contamination. Further, the company agreed to “determine whether action is required to mitigate any unacceptable risk.”
In the event that action is required, the company agreed to pay over $1-million per year to the Colville and Spokane Tribes, Washington State and the Department of the Interior to provide for their participation and review on an ongoing basis.
To date, Teck reports that studies in the Upper Columbia River have generally shown that the water in the river system meets applicable water quality standards in both Canada and the U.S., that the beaches are safe for recreational activities, and that the fish in the river system are as safe or safer to eat than fish in other water bodies in Washington State.