MAC: Mines and Communities

Teck Coal fined $60 million for water pollution in British Columbia

Published by MAC on 2021-03-28
Source: The Narwhal, National Observer

Teck subsidiary pleaded guilty to charges related to selenium and calcite contamination.

In the largest penalty ever issued for Fisheries Act offences, Teck Coal Limited was fined $60 million by the Provincial Court of British Columbia for polluting waterways in the Elk Valley. While this is a positive development, and a record fine, it pales before the profit generated by the contaminating activity, including massive executive "compensation" packages. Teck’s coal mines are located within the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation. 

Lars Sander-Green, mining lead with the Kootenay-based conservation organization Wildsight, raised concerns however that when compared to Teck’s revenue from coal, the fine may not do much to discourage further pollution. Sander-Green said he was also “disappointed” that Environment and Climate Change Canada is not going to pursue charges for pollution offences between 2013 and 2019.

"Will the $60 million put fish back into the watershed, will it clean up the system, will it go towards fishery enhancement or habitat restoration? Why would a company adhere to policy, legislation, etc. when they can simply pay less than $5.3% in fines compared to the amount they’re investing in treatment and less than 0,04% of their revenue from the past 3 years!" stated Shannon McPhail, Executive Director at Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition.

Meanwhile, Alberta's environment minister is reassuring rural municipalities in the province's dry south that their water supply isn't threatened by coal mines development.

See also:

2021-01-28 Alberta’s controversial coal policy unearths anger
2018-09-21 US tribes win costs battle over Teck's pollution

Yes, there should be a price on water, soil and air pollution

Mar 29, 2021

The news that the Provincial Court of B.C. handed Teck Coal Limited a $60 million fine , the largest penalty yet for Fisheries Act offenses, sounded like great news and appropriately so. The coal company has been polluting the waterways of Elk Valley, home of the Ktunaxa Nation, for a long time and the dire effects are multifold.

However, the fine is for just one year of releasing selenium and calcite from two of its mines. For what looks like a bargain when seen from the outside, the company apologized and pleaded guilty for the 2012 double trespassing, and the Crown prosecutors agreed to not pursue any other charges for the same offenses between 2013 and 2019.

Well, riddle me that! Same company, same bad deeds, same awful consequences for waterways, wildlife and the people living there, but somehow a bargain was struck and there are no extra fines, though the company’s revenue could easily support a few more, if their $4.5 billion in 2012 is any indication.

This is by no means the only mine that affects the environment and nearby communities. We all remember the Mount Polley mine disaster and then there are so many others we know little about because information of this kind has been scarce.

Not anymore though. In 2019, BC Mining Law Reform, together with SkeenaWild Conservation Network put together a map of 173 metal and coal sites. According to the report, 116 sites have already contaminated their immediate environment or are at risk to do so. To be sure, the network emphasized that ‘The network is not against mining, but it is against mining at any cost, or price.’ It’s about needs versus greed.

Then there was the news on carbon tax, which the Supreme Court of Canada deemed constitutional, and necessary if we want to see the greenhouse emissions go down. Many celebrated the news, while others decried that it’s a money grab that will do nothing but ultimately damage our economy.

Perhaps not a bad thing to remind people of, given that the Conservative party is still finding it hard to admit that climate change is real. In fact, they down right deny it, which would be funny if it wasn’t so troublesome.

Anyone who has a pulse can see that the natural world is changing in front of our eyes – the effects of ‘perpetual growth’ economy, which, mind you, boosts the wealth of a few while bringing disaster to so many others, as well as to our environment.

Meanwhile, as if to remind us in a gargantuan way, literally, that our present way of life, globally speaking, is not going the right way, is the megaship that is blocking the Suez canal, halting international trade and causing millions in losses. (As of Monday, the ship has been freed.)

The size of this behemoth (more than four football fields and 200,000 tonnes!) is without a doubt shocking. What’s even more shocking than its size or the present situation is the fact that such a huge ship can be actually filled to capacity and also, that it is not the only megaship in the world.

The size of these already gigantic vessels has been increasing in the last few years in what can only be described as greed and excess beyond imagination. That’s where the shock should be – the impossibility of a lifestyle that eats away at the very planet it grows out of.

However, that’s not what is deemed shocking. It is the disruption to the global trade that brings more distress because there’s a cost associated to it. Natural disasters have one too, but the reinforcement is week unfortunately.

Once again, the losses of millions will likely barely affect the big companies running the global trade, but it will definitely affect regular people in many countries, some of which are struggling already due to the pandemic.

Consumerism has been discussed to death by many who argue against it for good reasons: bigger and more means that our air, soil and water become polluted, and the effects are long-term.

The resilience of nature cannot be a match, at least not in the near future, for the greed that makes humans dig more and deeper, extract resources to manufacture more stuff, and in all of that there is a high price that nature pays and severe violations of human rights too.

Putting a price on pollution, and a high one at that, and bringing consumerism down a few notches is highly overdue.

It’s in our interest and it benefits not just our health, but the health and well-being of our children and their children. It’s a message that has to reach far and wide, and once again we are to realize that addressing needs sustains life, while allowing greed and consumerism to rule destroys so much of it.

Teck fined $60 million for water pollution in B.C.’s Elk Valley

The company’s CEO apologized for releases of selenium and calcite from metallurgical coal mines after receiving the largest penalty ever handed down for offences under the federal Fisheries Act.

Ainslie Cruickshank
Mar 26, 2021

In the largest penalty ever issued for Fisheries Act offences, Teck Coal Limited was fined $60 million by the Provincial Court of British Columbia Friday for polluting waterways in the Elk Valley, where the company operates metallurgical coal mines.

Teck Coal, a subsidiary of Teck Resources, pleaded guilty to two charges related to selenium and calcite pollution released from its Fording River and Greenhills mines over the course of 2012. Crown prosecutors have agreed not to pursue charges related to releases of the same contaminants between 2013 and 2019.
Associate Chief Judge Paul Dohm said he is “satisfied the penalties imposed are a significant deterrent to Teck Coal.”

In a statement, Ktunaxa Nation Council said “there have been significant impacts to wuÊ”u (the water) in Qukin Ê”amaÊ”kis (Elk Valley) due to coal mining, and those impacts continue to grow today with Teck Coal Limited’s operations.”

“This case, the charges laid, and the fines assessed, are steps in acknowledging the harm that has been and continues to be done to Ê”amak ȼ wuÊ”u (the land and water) by development impacts done without Ktunaxa consent,” the statement reads.

Teck CEO offers apology, commitment to address water pollution

In an open letter, Teck CEO Don Lindsay said, “We sincerely apologize and take responsibility for the impacts of these discharges. Everyone at Teck is committed to responsible mining that protects the environment.”

“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,” he said.

Lars Sander-Green, mining lead with the Kootenay-based conservation organization Wildsight, raised concerns however that when compared to Teck’s revenue from coal — more than $4.5 billion in 2012 alone — the fine may not do much to discourage further pollution.

“Here we are in 2021 and the problem just keeps getting worse and worse and worse every year,” he said.

Sander-Green said he was also “disappointed” that Environment and Climate Change Canada is not going to pursue charges for pollution offences between 2013 and 2019.

“It sends exactly the wrong message, which is that you can negotiate with Environment Canada if you’re a mine that’s polluting to keep your fines down,” he said.

Water, fish samples revealed harmful levels of selenium

Selenium and calcium are released into the local environment when mine waste rock is exposed to precipitation and oxygen, Crown counsel Alexander Clarkson said in court, adding that the scale of the waste rock piles along the Upper Fording River is “substantial,” with some piles reaching more than 100 metres high.

Exposure to elevated levels of selenium is toxic for fish and can result in deformities and reproductive failure. Calcite, meanwhile, essentially turns the stream bottom to concrete, solidifying the loose gravels that fish rely on to create protective nests for their eggs.

Clarkson said Teck Coal was aware years earlier that selenium and calcite could cause environmental harm, but over the course of 2012 “did not exercise due diligence to prevent the deposit of coal mine waste rock leachate into the Fording River.”

Nor did the company have a comprehensive plan in place to address contamination from mine waste rock at that time, he said.

At the same time, Teck failed to maintain barriers to prevent westslope cutthroat trout in the Upper Fording River from accessing the waste rock settling ponds, Clarkson said.

In 2012 Environment and Climate Change Canada officers collected samples of westslope cutthroat trout muscle and eggs in the Upper Fording River watershed and detected selenium concentrations high enough to cause adverse effects, he said.

Westslope cutthroat trout are listed as a species of concern under the federal Species at Risk Act.

Selenium concentrations detected in water samples from the Upper Fording River downstream of Teck’s coal mines ranged from 9 part per billion to 90 part per billion, according to an Environment and Climate Change publication on the investigation. Selenium concentrations upstream of the operations meanwhile, were less than 1 part per billion.

“Calcite deposits were also observed in tributaries supporting the habitat of the Upper Fording River westslope cutthroat trout population,” Clarkson noted.

Since 2012 Teck has conducted fish surveys in the Upper Fording River. While Clarkson noted the westslope cutthroat population was either stable or increasing in surveys conducted between 2013 and 2017, the 2019 survey revealed a dramatic collapse of the adult population relative to 2017 numbers. The cause of the collapse is still being investigated.

Ktunaxa Nation rights have been affected by coal mining in traditional territory

Teck’s coal mines are located within the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation.

“Fish and fish habitat are critical to the maintenance of Ktunaxa rights, interests, and practices for ecological, cultural, subsistence, and commercial values, particularly in light of the historic loss of swaqÌ“mu (salmon) from the upper Columbia,” said Vickie Thomas, the operational director of Ktunaxa lands and resources sector, as part of the Ktunaxa community impact statement she read in court.

“The pollution of waterways in qukin Ê”amakÊ”is and È»amÌ“ na Ê”amakÊ”is affects the Ktunaxa in many ways,” she said.

 “Ktunaxa perceptions of contamination in fish is already impairing Ktunaxa practice of rights on the Elk and Fording Rivers, including avoidance of these areas for fishing,” she said.

“The result is an alienation of our people from our lands, waters and cultural practices.”

“From a Ktunaxa perspective, considering the overall disturbance of Ê”amak (lands) within qukin Ê”amakÊ”is, the threshold of adverse effects on the exercise of Ktunaxa rights has likely already been surpassed in the region,” Thomas said.
Wildsight calls for ‘pause’ on any expansion of Elk Valley coal mining

In his open letter, Teck CEO Lindsay said the company has invested about $1 billion to implement the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, which was developed in 2013 and approved in 2014, to reduce water pollution from the mines. As part of that plan, Teck has constructed water treatment facilities and implemented water quality monitoring and research and development initiatives.

“While there has been significant progress since 2012, much more remains to be done. Additional water treatment facilities are under construction now with more in the planning stages,” Lindsay said, adding the company plans to invest up to $655 million in the next four years.

“We are committed to meeting this challenge,” he said.

Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a directive to Teck in October 2020 requiring the company to take certain steps, including water treatment facilities, to improve water quality in the Upper Fording River Valley.

Wildsight however, has repeatedly raised concerns that Teck’s costly water treatment facilities are not a sustainable long-term solution.

With four more mines proposed in the area, Sander-Green said he’d like to see a “pause” on any potential coal mining expansion in the Elk Valley.

“We’re very concerned that we’re going to see a lot more mining in the valley with water treatment that’s going to mask that pollution problem for as long as the coal lasts and then in the long-term we’re going to see even more pollution than we see today,” he said.
Alberta environment minister claims coal mining doesn't threaten water

Bob Weber

March 18th 2021

Alberta's environment minister is reassuring rural municipalities in the province's dry south that their water supply isn't threatened by industrial development such as coal mines.

"Alberta continues to have some of the most rigorous water licence rules (and) environmental rules when it comes to the protection of water," Jason Nixon told a Rural Municipalities Alberta convention.

Many communities in the southwest have expressed concern about the United Conservative government's plan to expand coal mining along the summits and eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the source of much of the area's drinking water.

They have said they're worried about water demands from any new mines, as well as possible contamination from pollutants such as selenium.

On Tuesday, the convention passed a resolution with 85 per cent support calling on the province to ensure the region continues to receive adequate supplies of uncontaminated water.

"The government of Alberta has arbitrarily circumvented normal public consultation processes in favour of the development of a single industry at the expense of other industries, the aquatic environment and the citizens of Alberta," the resolution says.

"By doing so, the quality and access to water quantities could be put at serious risk."

The resolution also criticizes proposed changes in how water would be allocated from the Oldman River basin.

The government is proposing to open up allocations from the river, which would serve to make water once held in reserve potentially available to a coal mine project that is currently before an environmental review panel.

Although the government has paused the sale of new coal leases on protected land, drilling and road-building may continue on thousands of hectares of leases already sold.

Nixon, who did not take questions from reporters, said nothing's changed and all previous environmental legislation remains in place.

"There's nothing changing to the water process or the licensing process in that area. I know there are rumours that it is, but it is not.

"At the same time, we have to find balance to be able to make sure municipalities and job-creators have the water they need."

The resolution was co-sponsored by the Municipal District of Pincher Creek. Reeve Brian Hammond was skeptical about Nixon's response.

"At this point, I think it would be a bit premature to say nothing has changed," he said. "There's a whole range of questions."

He said people in his area are deeply concerned about water usage by coal mines. Much of the area is classified as semi-arid and farming depends on irrigation.

"For us, the key focus is that water allocation, and the quality and quantity of water, and where the mining is going to get that water from."

Hammond said one of the major irritants is the government's lack of consultation.

"One of the biggest things right from the beginning was the apparent lack of consideration. The opportunity was not provided."

The province has promised to seek public input starting March 29, but no details have been released.

Earlier this week, Energy Minister Sonya Savage said consultations will include an option for no mining at all.

Hammond notes Pincher Creek isn't alone. A count done for the town of High River found at least 28 municipalities — including Alberta's four largest cities — have written to the province expressing some level of concern.

"There's been a fairly dramatic rally among jurisdictions up and down the eastern slopes who have a common concern. Surely, government can't ignore that."


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