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Teck appealing $16.5M fines levied for water quality violations at Elk Valley mines

Teck is appealing $16.5 million in fines that was announced a few weeks ago, which found the company contravened water quality environmental regulations at coal mining operations in the Elk Valley over the last four years.

Teck is appealing $16.5 million in fines that was announced a few weeks ago, which found the company contravened water quality environmental regulations at coal mining operations in the Elk Valley over the last four years.

The fines was issued for failing to have a water treatment facility constructed at the Fording River South operation by the end of 2018, while daily and monthly selenium and nitrate limits were exceeded at various times at other coal mines.

A Teck spokesperson acknowledged the appeal, noting the company had “concerns about the process,” while also “seeking an option so funds paid could instead flow to community or environmeAntal programs that further the Ktunaxa’s stewardship and cultural objectives,” according to a statement.

In total, Teck was hit with three separate fines totalling approximately $16.5 million.

The largest of the financial penalties, a $15,5 million fine, was issued after the company failed to have a water treatment facility built at the Fording River South mine by the end of 2018, which was a requirement as part of an environmental permit.

That same facility was completed and operational by the summer of 2022, as Teck blamed delays on a water treatment challenge as well as COVID-induced impacts on construction.

In two separate filings, further financial penalties were issued for exceeding daily and monthly selenium limits at Greenhills and Line Creek operations, as well as the Koocanusa Reservoir — all at various times recorded between 2018-2021.

Those fines were $864,000 and $216,000, respectively.

Teck maintains it has capacity to treat and remove selenium from up to 77.5 million litres per day with four water treatment facilities at mine sites in the Elk Valley.

A spokesperson with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy confirmed the appeal, noting that the penalties are a result of increased inspections and “demonstrate the importance of strengthened compliance and enforcement actions.”

The ministry statement notes that it hopes the penalty is upheld.

The news of Teck’s appeals drew a sharp reaction from the Ktunaxa Nation Council, which played a major role in the province’s enforcement compliance adjudication process that resulted in the fines being levied against the company.

The appeals are disrespectful to the Ktunaxa exercising jurisdiction on their homelands, and the regulatory framework that protects the enviornment, according to a Ktunaxa Nation Council press release.

“That Teck would use legal avenues to avoid and minimize responsibility rather than taking accountability for harms to the environment by paying these penalties and improving its performance is disappointing,” said Kathryn Teneese, KNC Chair. “Particularly given that KNC’s involvement was significant in informing the Ministry’s decisions and penalties.”

The Ktunaxa noted it was encouraged by the fines, as a demonstration of holding industry accountable for violating environmental regulations in the Elk Valley.

According to submissions during the review process, the Ktunaxa Nation Council asserted that Ktunaxa people are not confident that the water and fish are uncontaminated, which was noted in the enforcement compliance’s written decision.

“During the time frames outlined in the penalty determinations, hundreds of thousands of kilograms of untreated contaminants—which were required to be treated—instead entered the Elk and Kootenay rivers,” added Teneese.

Wyatt Petryshen, Mining Policy and Impacts Researcher for Wildsight, a regional environment and conservation advocacy organization, said Teck’s appeal of the fines was “disappointing.”

“Teck has always been very vocal in their support for the environment and nature positive and I think this sends the wrong message in that they’re not taking the compliance side of the violation seriously and they just want to continue with business as usual,” Petryshen said, “as they’ve received many fines in the past that have been a much lower amount and we’ve seen that those haven’t really done a good job in deterring future non-compliances.

“Hopefully these larger amounts will improve the environment in the Elk Valley.”

For over a decade, the Ktunaxa Nation Council has been calling for a reference to an International Joint Commission — an entity that adjudicates transboundary water issues — in response to pollution concerns in the Kootenay watershed and particularly, Lake Koocanusa, which straddles the B.C-Montana border.

Montana recently updated more stringent selenium standards for the reservoir, however, B.C. has yet to follow suit, while work remains ongoing by the Canadian government to develop updated coal mining effluent regulations under the Fisheries Act.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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