MAC: Mines and Communities

U.s. Superfund Law Applies To Canadian Company, Court Rules

Published by MAC on 2006-07-07
Source: ENS

U.S. Superfund Law Applies to Canadian Company, Court Rules

SPOKANE, Washington, (ENS)

7th July 2006

The United States' Superfund law that governs cleanup of contaminated sites applies to Teck Cominco Metals of Canada, regardless of the fact that the pollution discharged by the company into Lake Roosevelt originated in Canada, an appellate court has ruled.

The decision was filed Monday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle. The court upheld an earlier decision by Federal District Court Judge Alan McDonald regarding discharges of mining waste into the Columbia River from Teck Cominco's smelter in Trail, British Columbia.

Two members of the Colville Tribe filed the original lawsuit under the citizen-suit provision of the Superfund law, to force Teck Cominco to investigate and characterize the extent of the contamination in the Washington state's Lake Roosevelt, the large reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam.

The State of Washington intervened in the lawsuit because Governor Chris Gregoire and state environmental leaders believed that the company, not United States' taxpayers, should pay for the cleanup.

Cominco argued that the Superfund law does not apply to a Canadian company that discharged hazardous wastes from a Canadian facility, and appealed the District Court decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"This decision is great news for all Washingtonians," said Governor Gregoire. "The Columbia River is a lifeline of the Pacific Northwest and the taxpayers should not have to foot the cleanup bill for contamination by a private company."

"Teck Cominco and its predecessors used our state as a dumping ground for 90 years and they should pay for the cleanup," said Gregoire.

This decision has implications for any state that borders a foreign country. If a foreign company contaminates land within the United States, the state can rely on United States law to govern cleanup and liability, instead of having to rely on less certain diplomatic processes.

"We expect this decision will result in Teck Cominco moving forward to investigate and clean up the contamination in the river and sediments to state and federal cleanup standards," said Washington Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning.

"We need Lake Roosevelt beaches, shoreline areas and bottom sediments of Lake Roosevelt to be cleaned up to the standards necessary to protect both human health and the environment from the effects of heavy-metals pollution," Manning said.

In early June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Teck Cominco Metals, in Canada, entered into an unusual agreement by which the company agreed to complete an investigation of contamination and conduct an evaluation of cleanup options under EPA oversight. The agreement limited state and tribal ability to participate fully in the cleanup process.

Manning said, "We believe this decision will strengthen EPA's agreement with Cominco, which was executed as a private contract between the federal government and an international mining company."

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