Canadian mining policy reforms needed

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On June 13, eight U.S. Senators sent a bombshell letter to Premier Horgan of British Columbia. In that letter the senators outlined their commitment to “protect American interest in the face of potential environmental and economic impacts resulting form large-scale hardrock and coal mining in British Columbia…” in transboundary rivers shared with B.C. The letter underscored and dramatically emphasized that all four states bordering British Columbia have the same problem: BC is reaping all the rewards of mining while damaging or threatening downstream U.S. interests.

The letter notes the “lack of oversight” of B.C. mining projects and the need for U.S. citizens to pay for water quality monitoring in transboundary rivers. It is indeed unfortunate that U.S. citizens must pay to monitor rivers damaged or threatened by B.C. mining.

In 2019 Congress approved $1.8 million for water quality monitoring. Congress is considering a $6 million request for 2020 to be shared between the four states. When will B.C. take responsibility and pay for this essential need? When will B.C. modernize its mining laws to be equitable with U.S. and Montana mining laws?

Town and city councils in Lincoln County (Libby, Eureka and Troy) recently voted to send letters to Gov. Steve Bullock expressing their concern over the pollution of the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa from Teck Resources’ five mountaintop removal coalmines in the Elk River Valley, a major tributary of the Kootenai. Given that the pollution from these mines will persist for centuries, it is certain that Montana alone does not have the financial resources to address this problem.

That is why the eight senators from Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Montana agreed to send a unified message to British Columbia’s premier. British Columbia mining rules are a problem for all four states, and B.C. and the government of Canada need to address this problem with concrete mining policy reforms.

Teck Resources has already responded like clockwork to the four-state letter with a letter to the editor in some Montana papers. Predictably, they state they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build water treatment plants. This is true. But will they actually reverse the selenium pollution, and how long will those plants operate once the mines close? Not nearly as long as the thousand-year problem Teck is creating.

Teck also states that there’s already a B.C.-Montana negotiations process to address the problem. This is true as well. But B.C. and Montana carry on negotiations without a formal commitment to conclude these negotiations. And Montana DEQ recently had to find $100,000 dollars to pay for scientific modeling work that neither B.C. nor Teck agreed to fund. Neither B.C. nor Teck represent models of good neighborliness. The polluter should pay.

In Lincoln County, we want a transparent process that protects the Kootenai River, and we want our U.S. federal government to insist that Canada commit to modernize its mining laws to be equitable with U.S. laws. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. But I’ll predict that B.C. will prefer to talk rather than take action.

Mike Rooney is president of the Kootenai Valley Trout Club

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