Bob Weber, The Canadian Press
The Joe Biden administration is joining other groups and agencies in inviting Canada to participate in a study on cross-border water pollution from coal mining in southern British Columbia.
In a statement last week, the US State Department said President Biden endorsed a joint study of selenium from the Teck Resources coal mines in the Elk Valley — selenium that was then found in rivers and lakes south of the border.
“The Department (of State) has affirmed the Administration’s support to jointly refer to the Joint International Commission, under the 1909 Boundary Water Treaty, regarding the Kootenai Watershed in connection with the transboundary impacts of mining,” notes the press release published last Wednesday.
Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the situation on Tuesday. On June 2, company spokesman Adrian Blanchard said in an email that Canada is “considering different options” in the matter.
The United States has been concerned for years about Tech Resources’ mines. The states of Montana and Idaho, eight US senators, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Geological Survey, and six communities on both sides of the border said selenium released by mines threatens fish in downstream waters.
Many of these groups have sought referral to the Joint International Commission, which was set up to arbitrate disputes over transboundary waters. In these referrals, the problem and formulation of recommendations have always been jointly examined by the two countries.
Thus, Canada and the United States, through the Commission, worked to solve the problems of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain in Quebec and the Souris River Basin in Manitoba.
The commission said it was ready to look into the matter and asked Canada to participate. The US State Department is now adding its voice.
In his statement, he said Canada’s participation will lead to “unbiased recommendations, transparent communication, confidence-building, and the formulation of a shared understanding of this issue among local, Indigenous, state, provincial and federal governments, as well as stakeholders.” from the two countries.”
The statement focuses on First Nations concerns, and stresses “the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to strengthening relations between nations.”
“Supporting the joint referral to (the committee) reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to protecting public health; to preserving our land, water, and biodiversity; and to providing environmental justice for communities burdened with pollution.”
The US government’s statement was preceded by a statement by the first six Katuna countries in the region, which have been calling since December for Canada to join the joint commission referral. “We are calling for meaningful dialogue,” said Nasukin Gravel of Tobacco Plains First Nation.
“The missing part here is Canada’s apparent unwillingness to engage in a joint referral to move things forward toward viable scientific solutions. It is a disappointment and a sad day for reconciliation when the federal government blocks progress in tackling the pollution of our waterways.”
Teck Resources themselves have acknowledged the problem. The company has spent $1.2 billion treating wastewater from mine sites and plans to spend another $750 million. It claims that about 95% of selenium is now removed from wastewater.
However, Tech deals with the “unreasonably low” selenium standards set by Montana. The company asserts that these standards, which apply to the shared basin between the two countries, are even lower than normal levels of selenium in the rivers of the mines.
However, the Joint Commission previously reported that selenium concentrations in parts of this watershed – Lake Koocanusa – are more than five times the limits set by Montana, although levels are lower elsewhere.
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