MAC: Mines and Communities

Teck fight with EPA sparks worry on US projects

Published by MAC on 2003-12-19

The world's biggest zinc miner, Canadian-based Teck-Cominco, is embroiled in a struggle with the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). At issue are the possible contamination of Lake Roosevelt on the US side of the border, by Teck's Trail Smelter situated north of the divide, and whether the US agency should have jurisdiction over wastes originating in Canada. Behind the debate, however, lies the key question whether the wastes - which have been dumped for nearly a century - are toxic. The company says they aren't and it's prepared to pay for a limited ecological risk study to prove it. But Teck doesn't trust the world's largest environmental protection agency to carry it out.

Teck fight with EPA sparks worry on US projects

Planet Ark (Reuters), Nicole Mordant

December 19, 2003

Vancouver, British Columbia - Teck Cominco Ltd. tried to allay market fears yesterday that its fight with U.S. regulators over a polluted lake in Washington state might frustrate its development of other projects in the United States.

The Canadian mining group, which wants to develop its Pogo gold property in Alaska, needs permission to do so from the Environmental Protection Agency, the same body Teck is at loggerheads with over the clean up of Lake Roosevelt.

Teck's Red Dog mine, located in Alaska, also falls under the jurisdiction of the same EPA office and needs the agency to renew various permits to be allowed to carry on operating at the world's biggest zinc mine.

"The EPA's intent is to keep (Lake Roosevelt and Teck's other businesses) separate. They have virtually said that to me," said Doug Horswill, Teck's environmental vice-president.

"It's a different group of people inside the staff. Relations are very cordial on both Pogo and Red Dog," Horswill told analysts on a conference call.

Vancouver-based Teck is also developing the Pend Oreille zinc-lead mine in Washington state.

Teck's battle with the EPA centers on a planned study into the environmental health of the lake on the Columbia River, which carried million of tonnes of smelter waste from Teck's Trail mine processing site across the border from British Columbia into Washington for nearly a century.

Slag, a waste by-product of the smelting process, is classified as a nonhazardous substance in Canada and the United States, Teck said. The firm said the traces of metals left in the glassy substance are generally not released.

Teck, which believes the health risk from the dumped slag to be minimal, has agreed to pay for an ecological risk assessment but refuses to do it under the aegis of the EPA.

The miner objects on the grounds that a U.S. agency has no jurisdiction over a Canadian operation - a debate that could draw in the Canadian government as it could have wider cross-border authority ramifications.

But Horswill said Teck's key objection to being ruled by U.S. "Superfund" law was that the scope of the EPA-required investigation and clean-up was considerably wider, going beyond the immediate geography and metal damage.

"History has shown the EPA has a tendency to expand scope....(The study and the cost) could be just massive. That is really the principal stumbling block."

The EPA has asked a U.S. court to force Teck to comply with its order. Teck, which accuses the EPA of releasing misleading and wrong information on the lake's contamination, said it would appeal if the ruling went against the firm.

Teck's shares ended 51 Canadian cents higher at C$20.50 on the Toronto Stock Exchange yesterday.


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