NCW — Colville Tribes has won its 15-year-old lawsuit against Teck, the Canadian mining company accused of dumping toxic waste in the Upper Columbia River.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal by Teck, according to the U.S. Supreme Court’s website. The decision not to hear the case upholds a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2018 that found the mining company liable for polluting the Upper Columbia River.
It is a big decision for the Colville Tribes, which continues to try and protect its traditional food sources, said Rodney Cawston, Colville Tribes chairman. The Colvilles have a deep connection to the waters of the Columbia River, which impact foods sources, such as salmon.
“It is really important for us that we see the environmental cleanup for food security of our people,” Cawston said. “Because the resident fish there can ingest those toxic metals and pass those along the food chain, which could go into human consumption as well.”
A representative with Teck, Chris Stannell, said in an email the company would continue to “vigorously defend” the litigation, but when later asked how, Stannell declined to comment.
Teck is willing to address any impacts to human health or the environment, he said.
The company spent $90 million on studies and came to the conclusion that the water was clean, the fish are safe to eat and beaches safe to recreate, according to Stannell.
The company deposited almost 10 million gallons of slag from a smelter in Trails, British Columbia, Canada, for nearly a century, according to the Colville Tribes. The slag polluted Lake Roosevelt, a 150-mile stretch of the Columbia River, where the slag settled.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the slag was toxic to animal and plant life within the river — in particular, species living at the bottom of lakes and rivers, which are the first links in a waterway’s food chain.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 2018 hinged on whether U.S. environmental law could apply to a Canadian company, according to the Colville Tribes news release. Teck claimed U.S. courts had no jurisdiction over the company. But the appeals court found it inconceivable that Teck didn’t know its waste would impact Washington state downriver.
The appeals court ordered the company to reimburse the Colville Tribes $8.6 million for attorney fees and the cost to investigate the river pollution, according to the appeal’s court opinion.
Teck has, in the past, entered into an agreement with the EPA to clean up some of the slag. But it did so without admitting liability.
The EPA will be responsible for enforcing any further cleanup of the river with Teck, said Paul Dayton, Colville Tribes attorney. Further court proceedings will determine damages from the pollution.