Eight U.S. senators write to John Horgan over B.C. mining pollution

The dispute stems from Teck Resources’ coal mines in B.C.’s Elk Valley

A coal mining operation in Sparwood, B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Eight U.S. senators say Canadian mines in B.C. are endangering cross-border rivers through a combination of poor environmental assessments and inadequate monitoring.

“We remain concerned about the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers that originate in B.C. and flow into our four U.S. states,” says a June 13 letter signed by the senators and addressed to B.C. Premier John Horgan.

The senators are from Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

The letter fans a long-running dispute over pollution from coal mines in the southern part of the province.

While previous U.S. worries have been expressed by bureaucrats, this letter comes from politicians and extends the concerns to B.C.’s northern border with Alaska.

“They’re concerned that B.C.’s regulatory system for mining just isn’t keeping the water clean,” said Lars Sanders-Green, who speaks for a coalition of 35 environmental groups.

“The Americans are seeing the same problem that we’re seeing, which is that B.C.’s mining laws are ancient.”

A B.C. government spokesman was not immediately available for comment. The province has signed agreements on transboundary waters with Alaska, Montana and Washington.

The dispute’s roots are in the Elk Valley coal mines owned by Teck Resources in southern B.C. Digging coal releases selenium, an element healthy in trace amounts, but one that can cause gastrointestinal disorders, nerve damage, cirrhosis of the liver and death in large doses. In fish, it causes reproductive failure.

A 2018 report found all five waterways flowing into the transboundary Koocanusa reservoir have selenium levels at the maximum or above B.C.’s drinking water guidelines. Two are four times higher.

Selenium levels in the Elk and Fording rivers are 70 times those in the Flathead River, which doesn’t get runoff from Teck’s five mines.

University of Montana researchers have found Elk River stations near the mines are reporting levels 50 times what’s recommended for aquatic health. Near the city of Fernie, B.C., readings are 10 times that level.

In 2017, Teck was fined $1.7 million over the selenium.

READ MORE: Teck to compensate Sparwood residents for dust

Last year, U.S. members of a panel that regulates cross-border waterways accused their Canadian counterparts of blocking the release of damning new data about the pollution.

The senators who signed the letter, both Republicans and Democrats, want Canada to do better.

They note U.S. agencies have already begun to address concerns over B.C.’s mines. Monitoring of water coming from Canada has been increased and American Indigenous bands have joined in to address contamination risks.

“Members of Congress … have called for oversight and accountability measures in shared transboundary watershed equivalent to those on the U.S. side,” the letter says.

“Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana have tremendous natural resources that need to be protected against impacts from B.C. hard rock and coal mining.”

The Americans want stronger decision-making on mine construction, better environmental reviews and more research to plug data gaps and monitor long-term effects.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

MP Vis advocates for faster internet in rural communities

Less than 45 per cent of rural households in Canada have high-speed internet

Peace on the water

Harrison Lake was rather serene recently with the lack of usual traffic… Continue reading

UPDATE: Police oversight agency investigating after shots fired Saturday night in Chilliwack neighbourhood

RCMP reported a ‘distraught male’ fired at police officers on Christina Drive – IIO is on scene Sunday

Prospera Credit Union, Westminster Savings lay off over 100 staff following historic merge

2020 merger was largest credit-union merger in Canadian history

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Most Read