First Nations angered by delays in joint investigation into cross-border coal mine contamination

First Nations and environmentalists say they are unhappy that the federal and British Columbia governments continue to block U.S. requests for a joint investigation into cross-border contamination from coal mining as expert panel meetings that arbitrate these issues end.

« They can sit on all the fences they want, but at the end of the day, we’ll do what’s right, » said Heidi Gravelle, chief of Tobacco Plains First Nation, one of many upset bands by selenium contamination in the southeast. Elk Valley British Columbia Coal Mines.

« We won’t stop. »

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The International Joint Commission, the Canada-US body that arbitrates water disputes, met in Ottawa this week.

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Since May, he has been asking Canada to join the Americans in an investigation, called a referral, on the Elk Valley question. The benchmark is backed by the Biden administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the states of Montana and Idaho, First Nations and environmental groups on both sides of the border, as well as the commission itself.

« The U.S. government continues to emphasize its strong interest in a binational reference to engage the (commission), » commission spokesman Edward Virden said.

Canadian governments are not engaging.

“The Government of Canada is considering various options…to address water quality concerns in the Elk Valley,” wrote Kaitlin Power, spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

« Canada and the United States have not rejected the possibility of a referral to the (commission). »

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British Columbia does not want the commission’s involvement, wrote David Karn on behalf of the province’s environment ministry.

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“British Columbia continues to be engaged with all parties and working to improve water quality in the Elk River Valley without the involvement of the International Joint Commission.

Elk Valley has long struggled with selenium contamination from coal mines owned by Teck Resources. Although Teck has spent more than a billion dollars trying to fix the problem, levels of the element toxic to fish remain high in the waters that flow into Lake Kookanusa, a reservoir that crosses the border between the United States and Canada.

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Selenium in these waters already exceeds US levels. Groups ranging from US senators to tribal leaders have written to Canada’s federal government complaining.

Wyatt Petryshen of Wildsight, a B.C. group monitoring the issue, said the commission could create a watershed council to bring all parties together, as it has done for other watersheds elsewhere along the border, including the Great Lakes.

He suspects that is exactly what BC does not want. Previous advice has raised barriers to new development in watersheds such as the Flathead River, which reaches into southern British Columbia.

“It was recommended that no more mines be placed in the Flathead, which took that away from the BC government. BC doesn’t see much motivation to see another watershed council.

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Although the province and Teck are involved in many studies of the Elk Valley watershed, Petryshen and Gravelle said they don’t have enough access to the data they generate.

« We don’t want the pretty power points, » Gravelle said.

“We want the raw data. We want our employees to collect them, because it will not be distorted. »

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There is no time requirement for Canada to decide whether to join a removal. Proceeding without the participation of both countries is highly unusual.

However, that doesn’t mean the problem can drift around forever, Gravelle said. She said her group is open to considering litigation.

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« We want to work on something, » she said. « (But) ultimately, we’re going to do what’s good for all living things, not just economically. »

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